Sunday, September 7, 2014

Oh, Canada!

Early this summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Montréal, QC, Canada for a business conference to attend board meetings, classes, and to take a certification exam (Note: I passed! Woot!). Although I have been to the west coast of Canada in the past, this was my first trip to the French-speaking province, and I couldn't be more excited to go! As an added bonus, my friends that live in northeast area of Québec were able to clear their schedules so I could see them while I was there. Woohoo!

One fun thing I discovered about Montréal after arriving is that Cirque du Soleil started and is based there. I've seen several shows through the years, and thought it was very neat to see its home base (if you're in town, go see it - tickets available here). To honor this famed troupe, our conference hosts hired several of the performers to entertain us at the welcoming reception. It was SO COOL! I honestly didn't think they could top it the next night...

Boy, was I wrong! On arrival to the second night's reception, we were greeted by a horse drawn wagon! This beautiful creature transported us up Mount Royal to Mount Royal Chalet, site of the best views in the city. I'm not kidding….

The view from the door of Mount Royal Chalet

Evening and night views from Mount Royal (excuse the blurry picture - my iPhone is good, but not that good)

This beautiful venue hosted our jazz-themed reception, complete with an open bar, living statues, and an amazing jazz band. It was awesome, and was a great surprise! (I was in Montréal during Jazz Fest, but was unable to attend the events - this almost made up for it.) Experiencing the Chalet itself was pretty amazing too - I loved the squirrel carvings in the rafters! It felt like a Disney set :)

While I was impressed with the amazing events the conference had planned, I decided to opt out of them for my last day in Montréal. Why, you ask? Because my amazing friend, Caroline, and her hubby came down to hang out with me before I left for home! Yay!

Caroline and I met because of our mutual love of SouthLAnd and Michael Cudlitz, but she quickly became one of my closest friends and confidants. Sadly, our distance has made it near impossible to see each other so I was very excited that she was able to come down to see me! Caroline proved to be a fantastic tour guide, taking me to see three sites I had been wanting to see during my stay.

Our first stop was at Pointe-à-Callière Museum, a historical and archaeological museum located in the heart of Vieux-Montréal (Old Montréal). This amazing museum exhibits amazing archaeological finds from ever era of Montréal's history, dating back to pre-French Québec to modern times. 

The top of the Pointe-à-Callière Museum offers expansive views of the Port of Montréal and the St. Lawrence river. It also had several small scopes pointed at various architectural highlights along the banks of the St. Lawrence, giving the visitor an idea of what they are looking at while taking in the views. It was a great way to see more of the city, especially the Port and the surrounding areas.

While looking at the more recent artifacts, we came across these booklets and bottles. I just liked the look of them, so I took a picture to look at later. Caroline's hubby saw me, and told it me it was "the beer that kills." Curious, I asked what this meant. Apparently, Dow Brewery was founded in Montréal but quickly became the beer for people of Québec, dominating the market for nearly a century. Things continued to go well for Dow for many years until the mid-1960s when an outbreak of alcohol related illnesses hit the province. It was later revealed that these alcohol related illnesses and deaths were related to a cobalt salt that Dow used to increase the head (foam) of the beer. The scandal rocked the province, and the brewery would never recover. Molson, the "it" beer in Montréal, would eventually acquire the brand, producing the infamous brew until the late 1990s. As a beer drinker myself, it was a fascinating story. You can read more about it, and see some awesome pictures of the old brewery too, here

While we were touring the museum, we discovered that it was also hosting a special exhibit on Marco Polo! It was fascinating! It highlighted many artifacts from Marco Polo's journeys, and talked a lot about the history of the Silk Road and his influence on Christopher Columbus' adventure to the "New World." It was awesome! (Random Moment: While touring the museum, we randomly got on the topic of green chile and New Mexico. A gentleman overheard us, and asked if I was from New Mexico. Startled, I said that I was and asked if he was too. Turns out, the gentleman was visiting from my hometown! Such a small, small world we live in!)

After our tour of the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, Caroline, her hubby, and I walked through Old Montréal (Vieux-Montréal) trying to decide on a spot for happy hour. This was a happy hour more than a year in the making - and it was amazing! The bar itself was really neat, and the drinks were pretty good too!

The next morning, Caroline and her hubby picked me up from my hotel to take me for our last adventure - to visit the Jardin Botanique et Biodôme de Montréal. Located in and around the Parc Olympique (host of the 1976 Olympics in Montréal), the Jardin is actually much older and much more famous that its Parc Olympique counterpart (its gleaming tower pictured above). The Parc Olympique tower was the centerpiece of the Olympics, and is the world's tallest inclined tower (165 feet; 45 degree angle). Visitors are transported to the top observation deck by a rare funicular, the only one in the world to travel along a curve. It's pretty impressive, and is visible from nearly every corner of the Jardin Botanique and Biodôme.

Our first stop was to the Biodôme, home to four unique ecosystem replicas, including an aquarium, rainforest, North American forest, and the local St Lawrence ecosystem. It was really nice meandering through the various ecosystems and learning more about the local environment, especially since it was all I got to see during my visit outside of the city itself. Fun Fact: The Biodôme is located in what used to be the velodrome, which was used during the 1976 Olympics for cycling events!

Our last stop was to the Jardin Botanique itself, which boasts over 20 gardens in a space of over 185 acres. The gardens were stunning - it's no wonder that it is largely considered to be one of the most important botanical gardens in the world. My favorites had to be the rose gardens, the Alpine garden (reminded me of home!), and the Japanese and Chinese gardens. There was a raw beauty to them that made them seem so much more authentic than other similar gardens I had visited recently. I enjoyed them a lot! If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit. You can learn more about the Jardin Botanique and Biodôme, including directions and ticket information, here.

Alas, even the best of trips have to end and our short time together quickly passed. Caroline surprised me at the airport with a great variety of goodies, including delicious homemade maple candies, a Québec sun visor, a Québec coffee mug, two keychains, a pen, and a can of delicious Canadian Maple Syrup! It was such a lovely surprise - one I appreciated immensely. (Thank you, Caroline! It was wonderful seeing you!) I have lots more to share about my trip to visit our neighbors in the north, but this post is already long. So, I must bid you adieu!

Until next time…

--- Becks

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