I thought I'd take a video and show you exactly what it was like, especially when we walked on it.
Have you ever walked on squeaky snow?
In Australia we have wet snow. That's probably because it's cold enough for the snow to be very dry, I don't know. But whatever the snow is like in Australia, in Montreal it is dry as! Austin repeatedly asked if we could make a snowman or have snowball fights but we never could because it was too dry. The snow would just fall through our fingers like sand. In fact, that's exactly what it was like, a sand fight, or trying to build a sandman!
I thought I'd take a video and show you exactly what it was like, especially when we walked on it.
Have you ever walked on squeaky snow?
Lots of things were different about Christmas this year. We were in Montreal instead of Sydney. It was just Michael, Austin, my sister and me instead of our whole family on both sides. It was cold instead of hot. So how did we manage to spend our Christmas Day this year? Well, nothing too fancy, just a morning skate and then some roasted elk for dinner!
Austin woke up not too early on Christmas morning and opened his presents. I was just thinking about how we were going to spend the morning when we had the brilliant idea of going out for a skate. A Christmas morning ice skate in the local park. Now there's something you can't do in Australia!
There are a few local parks whose ponds were emptied in October and which now functioned as outdoor skating rinks. The prettiest one in my opinion is Parc Saint Viateur, about a 10 minute walk away. It's also one where ice hockey is not allowed, important to be aware of when you have a 4-year-old first-time skater!
So, Saint Viateur it was. We arrived at about 11am and the sun was bright and warm, taking the edge off the -15C. We were the only ones at the park at first but after a while lots of other families and couples turned up, strapped on their skates and did a few circuits. Nobody stayed long, either because of the cold, or because they had delicious Christmas feasts awaiting them back home.
Austin and Michael both had their skates and I was going to share with my sister. I hadn't been skating since I was a teenager but I think it's like anything you've learnt and haven't done in a while, it all comes back. I found myself trying to turn like I do when I ski and that was a mistake, nearly sending me sprawling a couple of times! Michael looked like a natural and my sister too!
Austin probably spent more time on his bottom on the ice than standing but he seemed to have a good time and quickly learnt to balance enough to stand and step along by himself. He soon tired of skating though, and ended up playing with his new snowball maker instead!
It was such a fun thing to do on Christmas Day. We walked away refreshed, ready to eat a truckload of food, and with Austin saying how he wanted to become an ice hockey player. Hmm, we'll see about that one. But in the meantime, I'm planning to ice skate as much as I can here before we leave!
We are so close to the North Pole here that Santa has set up a village just for kids to come and visit him and play in his fun park!
Located about an hour out of Montreal, the Village du Père Noël has everything that an outdoor winter park could need to entertain kids aged 2-9 for hours. After paying the pretty reasonable entry fee, families are welcomed with signs of reindeer and elves as well as bouncy bubbly park employees dressed in fanciful Christmas outfits, fitting for people working in Santa's village.
The first thing we saw was the tubing hill and that's immediately what caught the kids' eyes too. Along the way, they got distracted by the train so they had a ride on that before proceeding along the snow-covered path to the bottom of the tubing hill.
Austin was a bit hesitant and as usual hung around at the bottom to watch the others have a go before getting up the courage to get on himself. We'd been observing for a few minutes and realised that when an adult rode with a child they went faster and most ended up falling out of the tube into the snow at the bottom when they hit the wall of snow meant to stop them. The kids who went on by themselves had a much gentler finish. So I convinced Austin that I didn't need to go with him, especially since I hadn't brought myself a change of clothes! Once he decided to go for it, he grabbed a tube, hauled it up the hill and got himself into it ready for the attendant to push him off the ledge. I have to say that this little boy of ours isn't afraid of a little rush once he's decided something is worth trying out. He went down another two times before we were able to get him to move on to the next attraction!
Being so cold, we decided to buy a coffee from the cafeteria they have set up. You can also buy lunch and snacks and take them, or your packed lunch, into one of the various heated tents to relax in warm comfort. Unfortunately for us, the kids didn't want to rest and so we dutifully followed them wherever their hearts desired to go.
Some of the things they did were run around in the heated covered jumping castle, slip and slide on a swimming pool that had been converted into an ice rink, and be pushed around a special track on sleds. The sleds were pretty hard work and my knee was not appreciative of the pushing at all! There were also animals, including Santa's reindeer, who weren't shy about coming up to the fence and looking for food from the people waiting in the line to see Santa.
The line to see Santa wasn't too long, the whole place surprisingly not that busy considering it was the day after the winter opening, but the wait was long and it wasn't until we finally got inside after an hour in -10C that we found out why.
This Santa was the best Santa I've ever come across (I had to be careful about how I phrased that around Austin otherwise I'd be subjected to more questions!). He spent a good 10 minutes with the kids, talking to the them and telling funny stories, entertaining children and parents alike. When he asked Austin what he wanted for Christmas, Austin got all tongue-tied, but Santa didn't get phased and went on to tell another story before coming back and asking Austin again, by which time Austin had gathered himself and was able to ask for his dollhouse with people and furniture to go in it!
Check out the website - it's the same Santa! http://www.noel.qc.ca/en/
This isn't the first time we've seen snow. But it's the first time we've had to do our daily activities in snow.
There had been warnings of a snowstorm, Montreal's first of the season, for a few days. Forecasts predicted 15cm of snow that would ultimately stick to the ground and not melt away. The night of the predicted storm, it started snowing lightly and we all went to bed excited about what we might see in the morning.
And the events of the night didn't disappoint us! We woke up to snow-covered everything! But it was raining and in my experience, which is mostly skiing at Perisher or Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains of Australia, when it rains on snow, the snow disappears and everything turns to watery mush. I can now say that I've experienced rain in the snow and at a constant 1C all day it doesn't in fact disappear, but it does turn a bit mushy!
Here's what was going through my mind on my first day experiencing living in a snowy place.
It's a work day so at around 8am I set off out the front door, carefully down the front steps and out into a world that seems totally foreign but which is completely normal for everyone around me. The front garden is blanketed in a thick layer of snow and looks like it does on the hills driving up from Jindabyne to Perisher when it's been snowing overnight and the sun hasn't had time to melt it yet. We call it a good cover of snow. Here they'd probably call it nothing!
Michael shovels the path and the porch and sprinkles it all with grit. Everything is slushy from the rain mixing with the snow. I imagine this is what it's like in spring when the temperatures start peeping up above zero and the snow starts melting into slush.
To get to work I have to catch a metro four stations from Outremont to Cotes-des-Neiges, then a bus to downtown area of Montreal on Avenue Sherbrooke. From there it's a five-minute walk to the building where I work.
I walk to the metro station in Outremont and it's raining so I put up my umbrella, but no one else has one. Everyone is walking through the slushy puddles crossing roads but I go carefully, being careful not to slip. I try to avoid putting my boots in the deep puddles that seem to congregate exactly where pedestrians need to step to cross the road. Pretty soon there's a puddle I can't avoid and sure enough, I now have wet toes. Or just cold ones. I'll have to check when I get to work. I'm glad I brought my spare shoes for wearing in class today!
On the bus it sounds like we're driving through one long endless puddle. I thought we'd go fairly slowly but it's business as usual for the bus driver. I guess they've got at least another four to five months of this. The cars on the road don't slow down either, but I'm somehow less surprised about this. It seems you can rely on Montreal drivers to remain crazy even in increasingly dangerous road conditions.
I'd heard that public transport after a snowstorm can be horrendous with everyone trying to avoid the messy roads. But apart from a more packed bus than usual, it hasn't been too bad. I am a bit later than usual due to the three of us standing in wonder for a few minutes at the front door before I left!
I get off the bus at my stop and continue the joy of jumping puddles. It's tricky. I see people taking a second to judge the best path through the slush and deceptively deep puddles. I do the same. The only time I've done this sort of thing before is in ski boots at the snow. You can walk on anything without fear with those boots. But I've never had to negotiate icy slushy puddles in work clothes before. It's an experience.
I stop several times to take photos of the snow-covered buildings, stair railings, shrubs and statues. I earn some stares from the locals but I don't care. I'm excited. I say so to one man who sees me taking a photo of the snow on some shrubs by some very Montreal-like steps. He agrees with me, smiling. I think I made his day, or at least passed a bit of my enthusiasm on to him.
I make it to work with time to spare for exchanging commuting tales with my colleagues before we all go to class. I think I'm going to like living my daily life in the snow...for a while!
Have you ever lived in a snowy place, living your daily life getting from place to place with snow in the way? What was it like? Did you like it?
There's nothing better for a 4-year-old than waiting on the side of the road for 2 hours in -2C with thousands of other kids for Santa to parade past. There's nothing worse for an adult.
That's not true of course. It just seemed to fit somehow. Maybe some people think like that. For me, I was very excited to see what Montreal had to offer in its annual Santa Claus Parade and I wasn't disappointed.
Being the disorganised family we are, we at least arrived before the parade started, just. As we got to the edge of the main street in the centre ville, Sainte Catherine, we saw the first of many cars going past handing out goodies for kids and adults alike. Families had already staked their places with deck chairs and prams on the side of the road, which weren't barricaded, surprisingly, and we had to settle for standing behind some kids on folding chairs. Not a bad position for Austin, because at least he could see easily. Because of the lack of crowd control structures, people constantly moved from one side of the road to the other throughout the parade. The fire academy people were on hand to manage any stray children who wandered too far to the middle but otherwise it was left to the public to make sure everyone was safe. A very modern, or is it pre-modern, concept.
The parade itself was great. There were floats with Christmassy decorations and lots of singers, dancers and marching bands. Every second float had its group of dressed-up people handing out merchandise like lego, saline nasal spray and vouchers for signed editions of the Christmas CD of the current favourite Christmas song singer who is apparently Maxime Landry (I said something for everyone!).
As for Austin, I'm not sure he knew what to make of it all. He was standing in front of me and was covered from head to toe in warm winter gear to beat the -2C temperature so I didn't get to see his face much. He didn't cry when he missed out on goodies and I'm pretty sure he smiled when he finally saw Santa. He said afterwards that he knew it wasn't the real Santa, that he was just a person dressed up as Santa. I guess that means he thinks there's a real Santa out there still. I think this year is going to be challenging for us parents keeping the secret alive for him. He's much too inquisitive for his own good and he's likely to inadvertently make us slip and let the cat out of the bag!
It's funny the things that you discover randomly. I was walking to a job interview in downtown Montreal and came across this sculpture outside the Museum of Fine Arts. For one, I hadn't known the museum was there, and secondly, I had never heard of the artist who had constructed this amazing piece. So, obviously, I had to go see!
We were really lucky to catch Chihuly's exhibition at the museum because they'd extended it already by a month and it was closing a few days after I discovered it. Talk about in the nick of time!
I was quite worried about taking Austin with us; usually finely blown glass sculptures and a four-year-old don't mix. But we all wanted to see the exhibition so it wasn't an option to leave him at home! So I came up with a cunning plan for distracting him while we were walking through that I highly recommend if you find yourself in the same situation. At each room, at each display, we would stop and ask each other, "What do you see in this sculpture?". Then we would describe what we could see to each other and that gave us all enough time to enjoy the art and move on without Austin getting bored! And he came up with some really interesting ideas too. Austin's perspective on Chihuly's works actually made my visit to the exhibition even better!
How to get there
The museum has a very comprehensive website. There are permanent exhibitions that are free and they also have exhibitions like Chihuly It's located 1380 Sherbrooke West. You can get there by Metro stations Peel or Guy-Concordia, or by bus 24.
If there's one thing you have to do in the autumn/winter in Montreal, it's go see the Montreal team, the Canadiens, nicknamed The Habs, play a game of ice hockey at the Bell Stadium.
The closest I'd ever been to ice skating when I was a kid at Canterbury Ice Rink in Sydney (ah, remember those days?) and in Dijon, France, when we lived there, and they set up an outdoor rink in the local square at Christmastime. While sport isn't really a big thing in my family, I love new experiences and so going to an ice hockey match was always on our list of things to do in Montreal.
One thing I have to say is that Canadiens fans are avid spectators, and the season and half-season tickets being sold out at the start of the season, even for a Tuesday night game it was difficult to get seats for two or three people, let alone five. That said, the official Canadiens website provides a site called The Ticket Vault where season ticket holders can sell their tickets legally (at whatever price they want of course) and buyers can buy tickets in a safe environment (whatever that means!). That's where we got our tickets. Right up the back of the stadium, last row, five seats together.
We arrived after having a really good burger at Bofinger (click here to see my review of their Poutine) and, after checking our backpacks and cameras (no video cameras allowed FYI), we made it up to our seats. Walking into the stadium was amazing. There is no other word. Maybe breathtaking? But yeah, it was amazing! Even Austin couldn't walk up the stairs without craning his neck around trying to look at the ice rink and the players and the rows and rows of spectators all around us. It was awesome!
Once the game started, it was non-stop riveting watching, nothing like the football match we went to, where every tackle signalled long pauses in the game for the substitution of offensive and defensive players. This was fast-paced and intensive playing and I was totally taken in! If only we hadn't had a little 4-year-old boy whose attention for sports was lost after the first 15 minutes. Luckiy we were in the last row and his constant moving over the five of us to stack jackets on his chair, which became his office, didn't disturb any of the fans behind us!
Unfortunately, the Habs lost, although they were looking pretty good in the second period (there are three of 20 minutes in the game) and had to end the game with a penalty shoot out which is always fun. The St Louis Blues were just too good and even I could see that they were the better players on the night.
Seeing one game has made me want to see more games. I've even checked out the Canterbury Ice Rink website in more detail and found out that there is in fact an ice hockey league in NSW! If Austin takes to ice skating when the ponds in the parks freeze over here, we might be making a few trips to Canterbury Ice Rink in the years to come! Maybe I should buy him a stick here...
It's been a while since I've done Halloween, so doing it in a country where it seems to be pretty big is a little scary (no pun intended!). Like Christmas in Australia, there were Halloween decorations, costumes and candy for sale in the shops for weeks leading up to the night in question, and every time I went in and had a look, I was so overwhelmed and confused that I just walked straight out again, just like Christmas in Australia!
Thankfully, Austin's daycare came to the rescue. They sent out an email saying that they were organising some specially themed activities the week of Halloween which would culminate in a Halloween costume party on the 31st of October. I'd been reading Austin some Halloween stories (for kids!), and obviously the daycare had introduced the children to the concept, so when I asked Austin what he wanted to wear to the costume party, he said either a mummy or a pumpkin. This time when I entered the local Dollarama looking for costumes, I knew what I needed. And luckily they supplied, in the form of a pumpkin!
There were two other things that were still on my mind: how to trick or treat, because it must be different to what I remember the one time I did it in Australia when I was 10; and what if people knocked on our door asking for treats.
Funnily enough, the second was answered by the first. Our neighbour downstairs had invited us to join him and his 10-year-old daughter to walk around the neighbourhood (because he knew the best = most lucrative streets to go to!), but dissed us at the last moment (right before dark). No worries, though, because we now knew that just walking around as soon as it gets dark is what people do here.
We went out at about 6pm and there were already lots of families with not only children dressed up but the parents in full costume as well. I wonder if they got more candy for that? Anyway, after some initial hesitancy on Austin's part, and quite a large fright when a scarecrow with a pumpkin for a head turned into a real person and scared the living daylights out of Austin, and me, Austin got right into it. I don't think he actually realised it was all about the candy because he really didn't seem overly excited about it. He was more into choosing the next scary house, or the next house with a lit pumpkin to visit even if there wasn't anyone there to give out candy.
And there is the answer to my second question: people were either standing by the front door ready to open it when children came up their front stairs, or they were standing or sitting on their front doorstep ready to hand out their goodies. It made it a lot easier to know which houses would provide and which were a waste of time. Not that it was about the candy.
When we got home, while we were waiting for dinner to cook, Austin and I stood at our front door, with our neighbour, and handed out candy to kids that came up. It was just that much later than when we'd gone that the kids were older and dressed a bit scarier, with ghouls and skeletons and bloody murderers a go-go. I think Austin enjoyed the handing out of candy just as much as gathering it. He even said he thought it would be boring but it actually wasn't!
Now, if only we knew what to do with all Austin's collected candy and the leftovers from our distribution because Austin certainly can't have it all!
What did you do for Halloween this year? Did you use to go trick or treating when you were little? Have you ever done Halloween in another country? I'd love to know!
This month I had the pleasure of accompanying Austin's daycare class to the Great Pumpkin Ball at the Botanical Gardens. I'd seen the advertisements for the display of pumpkins and the activities for kids that the Gardens had organised and I was very excited to see the real thing!
Our first stop was Esmeralda the Witch and the winding trail of pumpkins on display in the glass house. Over 800 pumpkins and squashes of all shapes and sizes had been decorated by children and adults alike and presented for visitors. Each was labelled with the creators and age group in the competition for best pumpkin.
Among the decorated pumpkins there were popular children's characters like Nemo and the Barbapapa family of the 70s, as well as whole scenes including skiing squash people and farm pumpkin people. My favourite was this display of animals, all decorated by children from a local daycare. So clever!
As we walked through the gallery, we were taken down to the home of Esmeralda the Witch who put on a performance each time a group of children arrived. She was very funny and the kids were mesmerised by her show.
Another show we saw after visiting the pumpkins and Esmeralda, was Pépo the Pumpkin's voyage of self-discovery. We all piled into the theatre and for half an hour were enchanted by Pépo and the characters he visited on his quest to find his origins. Parts of the show were a little scary but most of the kids in Austin's class enjoyed it.
Time for lunch and all the kids visiting with schools and daycares packed into a tent set up with tables and chairs to eat their sandwiches. After lunch they had a play in the Little Monsters Courtyard which had piles of pumpkins and lots of playground activities for the kids to run around in. I have to hand it to the teachers, looking out for 12 odd kids with 5 of us was stressful enough, but they do it every day with only 2 or 3 of them!
After a quick revisit to the Witch Esmeralda, we piled back into our minibus and headed home to the daycare centre. The day was well-organised and such a great thing for children to do. Being able to touch and feel pumpkins and squash of all different colours and sizes, and all with a Halloween theme, was something I know I won't forget for a while.
The Great Pumpkin Ball is organised at the Botanical Gardens every year and information can be found at their website: http://calendrier.espacepourlavie.ca/the-great-pumpkin-ball
In an effort to not put off something fun until tomorrow in case tomorrow never comes, we went apple picking in August when we first arrived in Montreal. Unbeknownst to us, apple picking season really started in September/October with the autumn harvests bringing people from all around to farms in the countryside for a day of picking and fun.
My parents were staying with us for a few days before their car trip around the eastern provinces of Canada and so we decided what better way to spend a Saturday than with a family trip to a farm outside of Montreal to pick some apples. The farm we picked this time was Les Vergers Lafrance, located west of Montreal, about 45 minutes drive from where we live. The website said that it had playgrounds and kids' activities throughout the day on weekends and picnic areas for families to enjoy while they were there. They also had a boutique where they sold a wide range of apple products including jellies, jams and pastries, and ciders.
We arrived at about 11am and already the immense grassy hillside carpark was almost full. We managed to get a spot under a tree and headed down the hill to the farm. We made it past the playground without having to stop for Austin to have a play, convincing him he was an expert apple picker and he had to teach Nan and Pépé how to do it! We got to the entrance and chose our bag sizes. You could get 10lb bags or 20lb bags so we decided on two 20lb bags so that we could pick lots of apples! And boy is 40lbs of apples a lot of apples!
After running around picking apples off trees, tripping over the apples blanketing the ground, and catching the tractor-pulled cart back up the hill to the picnic areas, we ate our packed lunch sitting at one of the many tables set up under a tent. While Austin had a play in the playground we took turns visiting the boutique, trying the ice ciders and the yummy apple pastries and then it was time to go home.
This farm was much busier than Quinn Farm, where we went in August. There were people under almost every tree in the orchard and you could hardly move in the boutique! I would definitely recommend apple picking in the off season! The autumn apples might be a bit sweeter than the summer apples but if you don't like crowds, go in summer!
How to get there
The best way to get to Les Vergers Lafrance is by car. There is a map on their website that has all the details: http://www.lesvergerslafrance.com/en/