A Weekend in Montreal for Nuphilex and Nuit Blanche

KITC would like to welcome back guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival. During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  

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Our son, David,  has always had eclectic interests.  He went through the dinosaur and reptile phase and has also included researching our family history and meeting seniors over a hundred as his passions.   As parents, Sandy and I have always tried to be supportive and nurture his hobbies. His latest interest, coin-collecting, took us on a road trip to Montreal to check out one of the largest coin shows in Canada, Nuphilex.

We arrived at Nuphilex early afternoon on Saturday.   David was concerned that perhaps all of the good coins had already been purchased.  Upon entering the hall, he found that was not the case. There were over forty dealers with an incredible selection of Canadian and world coins.   

Nuphilex

Having relatively little knowledge about coin-collecting, I am always concerned we may not be getting a fair price. Luckily, David has grown with his hobby researching what coins he needs to add to his collection and what is a reasonable price.   We found the dealers at Nuphilex were all very helpful and explained some of the finer points of coin-collecting. We were also offered a decent price on all the coins.

After a few hours of numismatic (fancy word for coin-collecting)  hunting, David, Sandy and I were ready to relax. Our past few trips to Montreal,  we have chosen to stay at the Residence Inn Downtown.  We love the hotel because it is only a two minute walk to the Peel Metro station and the rooms are always impeccably clean and spacious with in-suite kitchens.  

We took an hour catnap and were ready to go exploring again.  I had reserved tickets for the 7:00 pm performance of Aura at the Notre Dame Basilica.  It is hard to put Aura into words.  The first part of the experience allows you to explore the Basilica discovering a series of multimedia installations that highlight the artwork of the church.  

Notre Dame Basilica - Aura performance

The second part can best be described as rock concert meets religious experience.   The music tends to be classical with the light show being equal to any Pink Floyd concert or techno rave.   The overall effect is mind-blowing. The Basilica lit up with lasers and lights coming from all different directions.  I have been fortunate to travel to a number of different places and have seen many shows but have never seen anything like Aura.  My favourite was seeing the massive pipes of the organ illuminated by lasers.

After seeing Aura,  I would be very interested to take a tour of the Basilica to find out more of the history of the building.

Once we were done at the show, our party was just beginning.   The day we were in Montreal, Nuit Blanche (white night) was taking place as part of the Montreal en Lumiere festival.  Nuit Blanche features activities with an artistic bent.  It also takes place until the wee hours of the morning.

Montreal en Lumiere festival - Nuit Blanche

We stumbled upon the epicentre of Nuit Blanche in the Quartier des Spectacles near the Place-des-Arts metro.   The area was a cacophony of sound and lights.  There were activities for every age including a DJ stage,  illuminated toboggan run and ferris wheel. Our favourite were the outdoor fire pits where you could roast marshmallows and sausages.  It gave the feel of camping in the middle of the city surrounded by thousands of other revellers. The crowd was equally people under thirty and families.  Everyone mixed together just having a great time.

Illuminated toboggan un Montreal Nuit Blanche

David would have stayed up till the break of dawn.  Unfortunately for him, Sandy and my party days are well behind us so we turned in before 11 pm.  

The next day, we started off with a delicious buffet breakfast in the hotel.  I loaded up on the sausages and eggs while David and Sandy loved the waffles.

Once we had checked out the hotel, David wanted to make one more visit to Nuphilex.  As it was the last day, the crowds were smaller giving the vendors more time to talk with David.  Of course, we did not leave empty-handed. David added ten coins to add to his growing collection.   I am sure Nuphilex will become an annual tradition for our family.

If you go -  The best place to keep up-to-date about all activities in Montreal is www.mtl.org.  I would also recommend Nuphilex for non-coin collectors.  It is fascinating to see the currency from around the world and provides a good lesson about world history and geography.  


Disclaimer: Stephen and his family were comped for the hotel and Aura show as part of this review, but views are his own.



A Family Weekend in Montreal

KITC would like to welcome guest blogger, Stephen Johnson to the blog. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival.  During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  

Our family literally reached new heights on a recent trip to Montreal. We achieved this by riding a new Ferris wheel, taking the funicular up Olympic Stadium and visiting La Ronde amusement park. I was holding my breath the entire time!

The adventure started at La Grande Roue Ferris wheel located in Vieux Montreal. Our son, David, spotted it last summer while appropriately taking a zipline. He had been asking my wife, Sandy, and I all winter when we could take a ride on it. The day had finally arrived. I have never been one for heights but was pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the cabins and the smoothness of the ride. David was taking photos like it was the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The glass compartments made taking photos easy. I must admit to being somewhat uneasy when David told me it was the largest Ferris wheel in Canada, especially when we stopped at the top, but all was well.

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After we finished at the Ferris wheel, we decided to check out the nearby Montreal Science Centre. David enjoyed all of the interactive exhibits. He particularly liked the exhibit about the human body. We spent a couple of hours exploring the museum. Once we were done, the spring weather was still doing its impression of hide and seek. One hour it was warm and sunny and the next was cool and rainy. We decided to wait out the damp weather with a tasty meal at Les Trois Brasseurs. Soon enough, the weather cleared and it was time to head back to our hotel.

The following day, we were ready for more high-flying fun. We headed to Olympic Stadium to visit the Montreal Tower. It is the tallest inclined tower in the world at 165 meters and a 45-degree angle. To reach the top we took a two-minute funicular ride that was stunning. Once at the top, we had a panoramic view of Montreal and surrounding area. Staff at the tower said on a clear day, it is possible to see up to 80 kilometers away.

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Once done at the tower, we were ready for an out-of-this-world visit. I’m not talking about a ride aboard an Elon Musk or Richard Branson rocket ship. We saw a show at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium The presentation was about the aurora borealis. The colours were truly spectacular and the presenter filled us in on the science behind the aurora borealis. We were also taken on a tour of all the constellations and planets we could see in the night sky.

After our celestial entertainment, we hopped on the Metro and made our way to Old Montreal. We decided to visit the Queens of Egypt exhibition at the Pointe-à-Callière museum. The exhibition was world class. It featured many different objects including monumental statues, frescos and even a mummy!

We wrapped up the day doing one of our favourite activities, just wandering the streets of Old Montreal and enjoying the ambiance. Street buskers and musicians just added to the atmosphere.

For our last day in Montreal, we fittingly scheduled more high-flying fun. La Ronde amusement park is one attraction we have never visited in Montreal so we were excited to go. To my knowledge, it is the only amusement park that can be accessed by metro in North America which I find cool. Upon entering the park, David wanted to find the highest ride. The Super Manège roller coaster fit the bill. My wife, Sandy, was brave enough to accompany David. I was given camera duty and was happy to snap away while Sandy and David had fun flippin’ and flyin’.

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The next ride on deck was the Bateau Pirate. The boat delivered up many thrills with it reaching extreme heights. David seemed more energized by every ride while Sandy bowed out after the Bateau. Next up, David decided to try the Goliath roller coaster. Afterwards, I read online that the ride went 110 km an hour (never shared that detail with Sandy!)

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For his final ride, David chose the Ednör roller coaster. It was a fun way for David to wrap up the day as the ride spun around and even went over a small lake. For the rest of the time, we walked around the grounds enjoying the sights and sounds. I liked the fact the park delivered many rides in a relatively compact space.

We had a comfortable stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott Downtown. It is located very close to the Peel metro station making it easy to get around all of Montreal. The hotel also had a delicious breakfast to start off the day.

We are already our next trip back to Montreal!

For more information about Montreal, attractions and events visit, www.mtl.org/en.

Tourism Montreal assisted David with attraction passes and hotel, but all views, etc. are his own.

Visiting the Montreal Biodome

My family loves weekend road trips. My daughter loves staying in hotels (especially those with pools) and more so, she loves exploring new places – and we love surprising her. So, we recently surprised her with a weekend road trip to Montreal.

The focus of our trip was the Montreal Biodome. My daughter loves animals, nature and loves learning about different habitats, so we knew she would love the Biodome. We had heard it was a great place to bring kids and was the kind of educational, interactive activity that would keep nature-loving kids busy all day.

Montreal Biodome

The Biodome, the Insectarium, the Botanical Garden and the Planetarium make up what is called the Montreal Space for Life, which is the largest natural science complex in Canada. It is situated in Montreal’s 1976 Olympic Park, which my husband and I found fascinating on its own. We spent most of our time trying to figure out which event was held where before looking it up on the Internet.

What is the Biodome?

The Montreal Biodome has four different ecosystems– the Laurentian Maple Forest, a Tropical Rainforest, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sub-polar regions. Within each are plants and animals native to each ecosystem. There are also interactive tablets and signage that explains what a particular animal or plant is and how they fit into that particular ecosystem.

Under the St. Lawrence

Under the St. Lawrence

You start your journey through the Biodome by walking through the rainforest, which is quite warm and humid. If you look up you will find sloths sleeping in trees, tamarins and marmosets swinging from branch to branch, and numerous tropical birds singing and flying about. 

The rainforest was my daughter’s favourite ecosystem because it was a “where’s Waldo” of trying to locate the different species that were housed there. There were also a variety of tropical plants and flowers, many of which we were encouraged to touch and smell.

A Capybara calls the Rainforest in Montreal's Biodome home.

A Capybara calls the Rainforest in Montreal's Biodome home.

Following the rainforest you are led into what can be a much chillier eco-system depending on the time of year you visit – the Laurentian Maple Forest. We were at the Biodome in late fall, so this area was the same temperature as outside, which was quite a shock after being in a hot rainforest. The animals here are more familiar to us Eastern Canada folk, but it’s a great place to get up close with some of our local wildlife, such as the porcupine, Canada lynx and the raccoon.  Our favourite part of this area was the river otter that was so curious and playful he constantly wanted to jump and swim and see who was there to watch him. He was adorable and was definitely a memorable part of our day.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence was a fascinating area for those interested in sea life including seeing how big an Atlantic Sturgeon really is! The shore part of this area had birds swooping right over our heads (watch out for bird poop!) and in the underwater area we were able to see sea urchins and jelly fish as though we were at a larger aquarium.

Sea star

Sea star

The area I was most amazed at was the sub-polar region. Although it wasn’t as large as the other areas it had two of my favourite species – Atlantic puffins and penguins. I had never seen a penguin in person before so it was fascinating watching them dive, swim and waddle around.

Sleeping penguin in the sub-polar ecosystem in Montreal's Biodome

Sleeping penguin in the sub-polar ecosystem in Montreal's Biodome

All said and done there are more than 200 hundred species living in the Biodome. I hate seeing animals in captivity and really hope these animals were rescued or bred in captivity… but to be honest, I don’t know. All of the animals do look well cared for and their habitats are clean.

We would definitely go back to the Biodome. My daughter had a great time there and her only wish is that it was bigger. In addition to the ecosystems there is also a room downstairs called the “Naturalia” where kids can learn more about the animals from each ecosystem. My daughter liked this room because there was a skull of a two-tusk narwhal, which apparently is pretty rare.

Puffins

Puffins

The Biodome isn’t open late (which I hope is to give the animals a rest). The price point is reasonable in comparison to other science centres and zoos. Adults are $19.75 each plus tax and children ages 5 to 17 are $10 each plus tax. Residents of Quebec cost a little less and their also family rates available.

In addition to the Biodome, we also went to the Insectarium, which was part of a package price, but was nearly the same price as the Biodome. After being at the Biodome, where we learned so much and saw so much, the Insectarium was a disappointment. It was quite small and the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa houses similar displays of encased bugs and overall, we left feeling as though we didn’t see anything we hadn’t already seen before. After the many interactive and live exhibits at the Biodome, the stationary exhibits at the Insectarium seemed to repeat themselves over and over again. Next time we will visit the Planetarium instead, as we have heard great things about it.

Colourful Bugs at Montreal's Insectarium

Colourful Bugs at Montreal's Insectarium

The Olympic Park was under construction when we went and the weather wasn’t ideal for walking around too much, but all of the Space for Life buildings are within a 10-minute walking distance and you can even go up the Montreal Tower, which is 165 meters, for a birds eye view of Montreal. I would love to go back in the summer and explore the Botanical Gardens as well, which apparently has over 30 impressive outdoor gardens and greenhouses. You could easily spend a day or two exploring Montreal’s Olympic Park.

Tips for an easy trip to the Biodome:

1) Pack a lunch and snacks – there is a café and cafeteria on site, but the prices aren’t great and the food isn’t the most child-friendly (at least it wasn’t when we were there).

2) Bring a twoonie for the locker – if you are travelling in winter, do yourself a favour and put your winter coats, etc. in a paid locker. It will make exploring the rainforest ecosystem a lot more comfortable and enjoyable.

3) Use your GPS and plan your route – we found finding parking confusing, so thank goodness for our GPS! And Google Maps. If you’re a planner and like to know where you are going then don’t forget your GPS (or Siri) – it will make travelling around Montreal much easier, especially during rush hour.

4) Know their hours - like many museums, the Biodome is typically closed on Mondays (the exception being some holidays).

Hooray … Hockey!  Hockey … Hooray!!

That’s Hockey, a picture book by David Bouchard. Being a Canadian prairie boy, David Bouchard knows about hockey. That’s Hockey, engages us in the warm camaraderie of a pickup game. The twist at the end may make you smile or laugh out loud. Heads up… there is a Montreal Canadiens jersey involved. Speaking of the Montreal Canadiens, The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier, is a Canadian classic must read. Take time to enjoy the wonderful illustrations that support the humour so well. This 24-page book is in the children’s fiction collection.

Everyone can use a little magic, especially if it comes in second-hand skates that have three brand new wishes. If you give it your all, wishes can come true. Yes, there are Canadiens jerseys in this book too.

The Magic Hockey Skates by Allen Morgan is also in the fiction section, but is a great 32 page read aloud, with large, colourful illustrations on every page.

Skating on the Rink of Dreams? Learn more about the Ottawa Senators, who contributed so much to it. Learn about the team, its history, records set, star Senators and try brain teasers too. This is a 24 page non-fiction book for young children. It has large font and photographs, as well as a glossary and index to teach research skills. You cannot start too early! Ottawa Senators by Don Cruickshank Juv 796.962 OTTAW-C

Hockey players dream of winning the Stanley Cup. Lizzy dreams of being a champion figure skater. It does not take long for Lizzy to realize, just as hockey players do, that she needs to practice, practice, practice! Bailey is another Canadian author with a passion for skating.

The Best Figure Skater in the Whole Wide World, a picture book by Linda Bailey.

Sam the Zamboni Man is a collaborative effort of American author James Stevenson and his artist son Harvey. Together they have created a warm story of a young boy’s visit with his grand-father. Grandfather is Sam, former hockey player, now Zamboni driver. Grandson Matt is in awe of both man and machine. But best of all, Sam promises to teach Matt how to skate!

Exploring Montreal's Biodome

by Amanda One of your favourite places to visit as a family is the Biodome in Montreal.  We love it so much we actually purchased a family membership this year. At $60 per family for the year we have already been 3 times since January!  Truth be told the husband and I went a few times before babe as well.  Yes, we enjoy it that much.  Well, truth be told I have a thing for the penguins ;)  I could sit and watch them all day! Thankfully they have nice benches there so you can observe comfortably.

The biodome is large enough that it is worthwhile to make the trip from the Ottawa area but is not so big that it's overwhelming or takes a full day.  Montreal has a special place in our heart so many times we stay over but have made day trips as well. When we day trip we generally leave around 8 in the morning and have been home at dinner time.  We have also made quick stops on the way through Montreal as a way to get out of the car and stretch our legs.  Our last trip to the Biodome with babe was a quick one hour stop. Time for him to run, explore, point at fun animals and watch the penguins swim with his mommy

Enjoy travelling through the various ecosystems and exploring various species, insects, fish and mammals.  Get up close to the birds as some walk right up to you through the Rainforest Ecosystem.  Watch the otter swim and do tricks and then slide down the slide pretending what it would be like to be that otter!

There is a coat check available at the Biodome but do know that it is extremely busy in the winter. We always leave our coats in the car and make the short walk to the entrance with babe wrapped in a blanket in the stroller or in the Ergo.  The few times it has been extremely frigid weather outside my lovely husband has dropped us off right at the door / picked us up so we did not have to wait for the coat check.  The rain forests ecosystem is extremely warm so I highly recommend that you do not wear your coat or have a lot to carry as your travel through.  The sub - arctic is definitely chilly but not anything that is extremely uncomfortable. 

No food or drink are allowed within the ecosystems but there is a large cafeteria and a smaller deli with many tables where you can grab some food or eat any food you have packed.  Meals here can definitely add up with a small family so we tend to bring our lunch with us and then head out for a nicer family meal within Montreal later on.

Weekends are generally busier so we usually bring our Ergo, or another baby carrier, with us when we go with babe.  Navigating a stroller through the narrow pathways with lots of families is definitely a challenge.  September to June weekdays are quiet and there is a lot of room for children to roam and explore.  It is much more stroller friendly during these times for those who want to bring one.  Summer months are hit and miss as daycamps can definitely bring in a lot of children at once.  However, Monday's seem to be a good day to go as not many daycamps do an outing on their first day of camp.

So the next time you are looking for something fun to do with the family, whether for a day trip or a weekend think about heading to Montreal to explore the Biodome.  Oh and when you are there say hi to my friends the penguins please!

Amanda DeGrace is mom to a 14 month old boy who loves exploring.   As a busy entrepreneur running her companies DeGrace Energetics & Little Lotus Amanda treasures her families time together as they call Montreal a home away from home