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20050804_P_0089
I'm the daddy!

In 1976 Montreal hosted the Olympics. The stadium is in one of the suburbs to the east of town and is now open for visits from the public. There is loads to see and do on the site. We were there for most of the day and I would still go back again given the chance.

Our first stop was the Biodome. For the Olympics this was the velodrome but it has now been turned into a mini zoo with different climates. The queues were pretty large so when we were told there was another cash desk downstairs we whizzed down to find a shorter queue. There were different tickets options so you could buy a combined ticket to see several parts of the site. It was not a difficult choice to make but a French speaking family held the queue up for about fifteen minutes while they considered options. Stef started to boil and went to ask if there was anything they could do to speed up the process or serve others while this family were still deciding. There was not. Five minutes later when the next group were being equally slow he stormed off with a "I am going to punch the guy serving if he does not speed up" comment.

I got our tickets (speaking English not French as a token gesture of irritation) and we went in. The first zone was Tropical and it was hot and humid like the coast of Ecuador. They had capybara's, animals a bit like guinea pigs but the size of a sheep. When we stayed at Yacutinga Lodge in Argentina in 2001 they were just starting to bread capybara's so this was our first sight of them fully grown. There were two little monkeys, a syrupy brown colour and comical to watch. They moved pretty quickly and we failed to get good photos. The caiman, like an alligator, was hard to spot but we made out its scaley beak and eyes sticking up out of the mud. Sauntering along the beams across the ceiling a sloth lived up to its name, they really do move pretty slowly. They also had big parrots here and a collection of tropical fish.

Leaving here and walking into the Laurentian zone the temperature and humidity dropped down to pleasant levels. There were tow otters, one hiding under a tree stump, the other flat on its back asleep in a little cubby hole where you could watch him. His fur was really sleek and shiny and even asleep he looked really graceful. A bit further on was a beaver dam, no beavers in sight and I am not sure how much of the dam was beaver made. Next up was a lynx enclosure. One was just watching the world go by. The other was continually pacing up and down. They were unusual, feline heads attached to almost canine bodies.

20050804_P_0122
Inhabitant of the Japanese Garden

The next zone was all about the water. There was a rock pool with huge starfish, anenomes and a crab (the only one I saw). The star fish came in different types, some pink, some orange, some better camouflaged against the rocks. Some of them had their "fingers" curled around to make a swirling pattern, I have normally only seen them extended. The anenomes were also unusual. There were the usual spiky ball shaped ones but also tubular ones with frilly tops (you can tell I will never make it as a nature reporter!!). They had a small area where kids could reach in to touch them. Also in this part they had a huge tank with fish - Atlantic salmon, skate, dogfish to name a few. Birds occasionally dived in for food. It was funny seeing them flap their wings under water to help propel them along and they made a good three to four metres below the surface of the water.

The fishy theme continued through to the arctic section where they had more big fish. The main attraction here though was the penguins. They have a couple of different species, some small, others larger like the Emperor Penguins. They were really funny to watch especially when they walk. They do not have a very long stride and to go up and down the slight slopes in the enclosure it was a bit of a shuffle and hop. When they were preening they would occasionally inflate their lungs and ruffle their fur (feathers?) so they blew up like big fur balls. Ungainly on the land, they would suddenly flop into the water and with a slight flick gracefully swim away.

After the Biodome we went across to the main stadium to go up the observation tower. A little funicular takes you up to the top from where you can get great views cross the whole of Montreal. It was pretty hazy when we were up there but you could still see for miles. The St Lawrence River makes the Thames look like a little stream.

After the tower, and an argument about which was to go (the heat was getting to us by this stage) we headed to the insectarium, part of the Botanical Gardens next door, There they had the biggest collection of dead bugs I think I have ever seen. They had beetles ranging in size from a grain of rice to the size of a flattened tennis ball. Some of them were a beautiful metallic greeny blue colour and were used by the indigenous peoples to make jewellery. They had butterflies, big hairy spiders, ants nests and a beehive that was dripping with honey. Around the insectarium teenagers were giving demonstrations of the techniques used to preserve and display the exhibits.

With the rest of the botanical gardens still to explore we opted to take the little "train" around the edge of the gardens hopping off where we wanted to be. Its a big site, the second largest botanical gardens in the world (I think Kew in London is the biggest). A fair chunk of the space is planted with different tree species providing a cool and shady area to while away some time. We stopped for a while by a lake in the middle of the gardens and watched a duck struggling to eat a fish it had caught.

Footsore and tired we cherry picked the last bits we saw. The First Nations garden represented the original Indian "settlers" of Canada. It had a small trail leading through a wood full of different types of plants. The names, which I cannot remember, were pretty entertaining and I suspect were made up after a tot or two of the local moonshine.

The Japanese garden was perfectly manicured and was focused around a large pond with water tumbling down a rockery into it. The water was an unusual shade of blue and looked like it had been dyed. A couple of bridges crossed the pond and provided great spots to watch the collection of carp. There fish must have been 30cm long, some white and orange, others golden. The bridges were either humped or in a zig zag lines. Evil spirits only travel in straight lines so it prevents the crossing the water There was a small pavilion giving an explanation about saké and how it was originally just a ceremonial drink. Cold samples were available to taste and I enjoyed it more this was than warm as I have had it in London. In a courtyard at the back they also had a small bonsai collection. A few were sixty five years old, the oldest was one hundred and ten. In front of the pavilion was a Hiroshima Bell. This was donated to mark friendship between Canada and Japan and is one of fifteen around the world. They are all modelled on a bell in Hiroshima that is chimed each year on 6th August by two survivors of, or descendents of, in remembrance of the nuclear bomb dropped in World War two.

From here we went to the Chinese garden where again water is dominant. They had a pavilion with a brief explanation of the process of growing and refining rice. A lady was playing music on a traditional instrument, the size of a violin but held like a cello. It seemed to only have two strings but she reached a wide range of notes.

We did not do this garden justice because we were too knackered by this time. That also meant that we missed all of the main greenhouses and the exhibition gardens. If I get chance I would like to go back to see them.

Stef called to check that our bags had been repaired and were ready to be picked up. We hopped on the bus, packed full of commuters on their way home from work. Mine looks OK. Stef's has a new panel across the bottom covering the tears. Time will tell if they will hold out.

In the evening we headed up to Avenue Duluth to a Portuguese place for dinner. This was a new part of town for us to see and it was reminiscent of Chalk Farm and Camden Town in London. Quiet streets with three or four storey houses with steps leading up to the front doors. There was the odd corner shop and a few restaurants dotted around. Considering how close it was to the main Rue St Denis and Boulevard Saint Laurent it was surprisingly peaceful.