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/
Let's face it. I'm not a big fan of football. Rugby union, rugby league, Aussie rules = big beefy guys with mashed up faces thumping each other just to get a wonky ball to the other end = just doesn't excite me. So I was excited to be going to watch a Canadian football match, not because the game itself fired me up, although I had mediocre hopes that because the rules were different it might be more interesting, but because of the cultural aspect. Here we are in Canada and we have the opportunity to go see a football game that we can't see in Australia (very often anyway). Cool!
The game we saw was the annual match between the Concordia University Bumblebees and the McGill University Redmen playing for the Shaughnessy Cup, a game played each year between the two teams at the start of the university football season. 'Our' team was the McGill team. So we joined probably more than 2000 other onlookers to watch this exciting first match.
Just the buzz of being in a stadium full of young, vibrant, inebriated 18-21-year-olds, mostly blokes, was amazing. Throughout the game, the boys (because, really, what else can I call them?) around us belted out their chants for McGill and against the Bumblebees, while periodically being chastised by the young security attendant about children being around, apologising to us for their bad language, and shouting to each other about where the best after party was going to be. Luckily, Austin was oblivious to the language warning state of their words.
It took me half the game to get what was happening and we were sitting a bit far away to actually see the ball most of the time. I was very confused about how often the players substituted and how many ran on and off the field each time. I swear there were 50 players on the sidelines at any given time, on top of the full team on the field! But after I googled the rules and talked to the security attendant, it made more sense. And I learnt that Canadian football is slightly different to American football. So here's my explanation of how the game is played, simple as it is.
First, there are 12 players on the field at any one time (11 in American football) and each team has separate offense and defense teams. That explains the whole-team substitution throughout the game! When a team has the ball, they have to move towards their end of the field at least 10 yards in 3 'downs' (4 downs in American football) or else they have to hand over the ball to the opposing team. Downs are like our tackles. The ball has to be passed to another player and caught on the full (a complete pass) for it to be counted towards the 10 yards. If it bounces or is dropped, it's an incomplete pass, and they lose a down and have to start again where the last pass was thrown from. If they make it to 10 yards in three downs, they get another three downs and have to make another 10 yards to continue in the offensive. Those are not all the rules, of course, and there are extra rules about kicking field goals and all that. Whatever, for a beginner, I think I've told you the basics!
It wasn't a nail-biting game, probably because I didn't really understand the rules until towards the end when McGilll was way in front. They ended up winning 32-19 and, in fact, it was a big victory for McGill because it broke their 15-game losing streak in this annual game with Concordia (they hadn't won since 2002!). You can read the recap of the game on the McGill University site here if you're interested.
Next up? Well, now we've had a taste of what going to a sporting match is like here with university students, I think we should probably see a real match with real spectators (that's what the security attendant recommended anyway), like a game where the Montreal Alouettes are playing. So, in the interests of cultural enrichment, that's what we'll do!
Lately, Austin's been into things that are from the 'olden days', things like old radios and turntables, old coffee grinders, old anything! This all stemmed from an afternoon spent at my uncle's house when Austin asked about the table under the phone and my uncle proceeded to show him that and other things that he dug out of nooks and crannies in his home. It was a great afternoon of wonder and inquisitiveness for Austin and it also sparked a desire in him to classify things in his everyday life as either modern or from the olden days.
So when a few weekends ago we saw that there was an 18th Century Market being held in the Old Montreal part of town, with artisans showing off their wares and produce, we headed over to see and we weren't disappointed. There were people dressed in period costume, and people selling regional produce, including a pine tree beer which was very interesting and probably not something we'll go back for too soon!
It was very nice walking around at a leisurely pace, stopping here and there to watch people making different things from the 'olden days'. Austin was particularly intrigued with the lady weaving the chair seat. We stood for nearly half an hour near the chair lady and she'd still only woven the first third of the seat. Whenever someone asked her how long it took her to make a chair, she'd answer 'depends how much I'm chatting with the other women'! But I'm guessing that it would take her at least a couple of hours to finish a chair, and that's just the seat. Festivals like these are good reminders of what things used to be like and how much time everything used to take.
Other artisans we saw were the weaving ladies, very delicate and detailed work; the silver spoon man, melting silver in his oven and pouring it into the mould then separating the two pieces and producing a spoon (reminded me of my dad melting lead when I was a child, to make sinkers for his fishing expeditions!); and the potter was pretty cool with his foot pedal turntable. Musicians wandered around the stalls playing traditional Quebécois music and acting out mini scenes with other people dressed up who were obviously in on the act! We tried some freshly squeezed raspberry juice and watched the children's game of collecting the corn ears in a basket on their backs. Austin would have had a go except that it was really hot and he couldn't wait in the line long enough!
All in all, this was a wonderful insight into 18th Century Montreal and its life.
This was possibly one of the first places I found when looking for family things to do on the weekends. Quinn farm is a family-run farm that grows a variety of vegetables and fruit, some of which are available for the public to come and pick straight from the plant, for a small fee. They also have a selection of rare animals in their barn and a fun kid's playground, with hay bale cubbyhouses, giant pipe slide, corn maze and even a small tricycle circuit.
Different fruits and vegetables are available for picking by season and when we went they had blueberries and apples. In October though, they have pumpkins and even Christmas trees in November/December. We decided to do both apples and blueberries, and it was great fun. The best thing about it all was getting to eat the apples and blueberries as you were picking! Nothing like a juicy red apple fresh from the tree to keep you going! I have to say, we did end up with apples and blueberries coming out our ears! Lots of muffins and pies in the making!
How to get there
The best way of getting there is by car. It takes about 45 minutes from Montreal's downtown depending on traffic. Detailed directions are given on their website: http://www.quinnfarm.qc.ca/