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Bonne Journée, Montreal!

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Another 91 days have come to an end, and this time we bid adieu to Montreal. The cultural capital and financial powerhouse of French-speaking Canada proved to be an interesting home for three months, with some great food, incredible festivals, bad weather, colorful neighborhoods, and welcoming people.

Montreal Sunset

Montreal was the sixteenth location we’ve visited over the course of our travel project. By this point, we’d recognized a dependable pattern in our feelings towards our temporary homes. Usually, we fall in love immediately, overwhelmed by the novelty of our new location and blind to any of its faults. But as the 91 days wear on, our emotions will begin to cool. In Montreal, however, the opposite occurred. This is the only city we’ve ever visited, that we enjoyed more in our last week than in our first.

It’s because we arrived in April, during one of the worst Montreal springs that anyone could remember. Freezing temperatures, sleety snow and unrelenting gray skies were constant companions for our first few weeks. We were able to go to museums, and that was fine, but it was too cold to spend time outside, and we weren’t able to get a true feeling for the city. After our first month, we felt no love whatsoever for Montreal. How could we? We hadn’t really even met it yet.

Our feelings began to change as we entered summer. The sun emerged for longer periods, the people came out into the streets, and festival season began. All of a sudden, there was an abundance of exciting things to do and, as June blazed by, we started to panic. It’s nice out today, so should we explore the neighborhood of Saint Henri, go to the Fringe Festival, get lunch down at the Old Port, or spend the evening under the pink balls of Le Village? Actually, we had better do all of these things, because we’ve only got a couple weeks left! As our departure date sped toward us, we were just starting to discover what makes Montreal so special.

We don’t often walk away from a place with such an equal balance of positive and negative memories. With better planning on our part, Montreal might have been one of favorite cities ever; with worse planning, we might have hated it unreservedly. So perhaps the mixed emotions with which we concluded our journey are appropriate.

We took our leave of Montreal just as the city was hitting its stride. There were still a lot of neighborhoods we hadn’t seen, a lot of festivals we’d have liked to attend, and a lot of day trips we might have enjoyed. So I’m sure that we’ll be back someday… but only in the summer!

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July 19, 2016 at 4:27 pm Comments (5)

The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

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One of the buildings which makes up Montreal’s “Space for Life” is the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. It opened in 2013, and features two full-dome theaters which allow visitors to tour the universe.

Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

The “Space for Life” is said to be the world’s first park dedicated to both nature and humanity. It’s based in the Olympic Park, and includes the Insectarium, the Botanic Garden and the Biodome, along with the Olympic Tower. You can buy joint tickets which will get you into any combination of the sights… but I’d recommend against seeing the Planetarium at the end of a busy day. The Powell Exhaustion Equation states: tired bodies + bean bags + total dark = expensive nap.

We settled onto our beanbags inside the Chaos Theater and got cozy, while the lights dimmed to envelope us in complete blackness. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “I’m never going to make it!” Luckily, the show was so fascinating, that staying conscious didn’t involve much of a struggle. “Dark Universe,” presented by Neil DeGrasse-Tyson, was an excellent presentation which took us on a journey through the least-known aspects of the cosmos.

Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

Dark Universe was the shorter of the two shows, and upon its completion, we had some time to check out the Planetarium’s exhibit on meteors and down a few shots of espresso, before heading into the Milky Way Theater for a show called “Aurorae.”

This was a more typical planetarium-type room, with seats inclined upward, and a central globe that was able to reproduce the night sky across the dome. First, we saw how the sky over Montreal would look tonight. An emcee pointed out some of the major constellations, such as the Big Dipper, Ursa Major and Leo, and taught us how to find Jupiter. And then, we embarked on a tour of the Northern Lights, during which we saw time-lapsed footage of the dancing lights and learned the scientific explanation for the phenomenon.

The Rio Tinto Planetarium offers shows in English, although less frequently than French-language shows, so make sure to check the schedule before heading over. The programs might change, but they always being with a more scientific show, such as “Dark Universe”, followed by one with a lighter touch, such as “Aurora.” It’s a good mix, and a trip here makes for a perfect rainy day excursion.

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Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium – Website

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Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
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May 16, 2016 at 2:19 pm Comments (2)

Le Centre d’histoire de Montréal

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If your thirst for history isn’t quenched after visiting the Archaeology and History Complex Pointe-à-Callière, then walk a few dozen meters down the Place d’Youville and into the Montreal History Center. I’m not sure we’ve visited another city which has two history museums in such close proximity to each other, let alone two as impressive as these.

Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal

The Pointe-à-Callière is the larger and more memorable of the two museums, but the History Center has a lot to recommend it as well, including the fact that it’s much cheaper. The museum occupies the old red-brick building of the Central Fire Station, which closed in 1972.

The permanent exhibition, found on the bottom floor, takes visitors on a well-organized tour through the centuries. Whereas the Pointe-à-Callière focused on the archaeology, here the emphasis is on the people of Montreal. A series of exhibits allows you to “meet” the different groups who have come to the island, from the Iroquois, English and French, to immigrants from Ireland and even a modern family from Chile.

Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal

We also liked the short videos that accompanied every epoch of Montreal’s history. Using maps and old photographs, these demonstrated in a chronological fashion how the city has grown from its earliest days behind fortified walls, to the installation of tramways and metro lines, and its eventual expansion over the entire island.

On its upper floors, the History Center hosts temporary exhibits, most of which are probably pretty good, if the one we saw is any indication. The exhibition titled “Scandal! Vice, Crime and Morality in Montreal, 1940-1960” introduced us to the city’s famously seedy side. Underground gay clubs, secret casinos, Mafia bosses gunned down in broad daylight and a notoriously corrupt police force? I want to hear more about this Montreal!

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Centre d’histoire de Montréal – Website

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Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
Le Centre dHistorie de Montréal
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April 17, 2016 at 10:48 pm Comment (1)
Bonne Journe, Montreal! Another 91 days have come to an end, and this time we bid adieu to Montreal. The cultural capital and financial powerhouse of French-speaking Canada proved to be an interesting home for three months, with some great food, incredible festivals, bad weather, colorful neighborhoods, and welcoming people.
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