Montreal Meltdown

Montreal is a beautiful city with comfortable summer weather... usually. On this trip a heat wave gripped the city, with temperatures reaching close to or over 100 degrees daily, which meant taking a different approach to seeing the sites!


Montreal Meltdown

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on August 14, 2001

Running the Lachine Rapids in the Saint Laurence River on the Saute-Mouton jet boats is an experience not to be missed, especially if the weather is sunny and warm. Montreal Expos games in Olympic Stadium are indoors, air conditioned and unbelievably economical to American baseball fans. The Biodome, a eco-tarium created from the cycling pavillion left from the Montreal Olympics, is a good place to visit with children.${QuickSuggestions} You may have heard about the Canadian dollar. The advertising line goes something like "Your money goes further in Canada" because the American dollar is so much stronger than the Canadian currency. Currently the Canadian dollar is worth about 67 cents American, or, in reverse, an American dollar is worth about $1.48 CDN. But what does this really mean? Not much. Realistically, most of what you want will look overpriced by about 50%. For instance, a ride on the Metro is $2, an ice cream cone at Ben and Jerry's is a buck more than you're used to paying and that sandwich for lunch is $8.50, not $5. It's not just because you're in the tourist areas, that's what prices are like. You may spot some exceptions, but they're rare.

Get good at doing the math in your head (take a third off to get an American price-equivalent). ${BestWay} In normal summer weather the city is walkable, with some help from the Metro subway system.


McGill University Dorm

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on August 14, 2001

McGill University, on the flanks of Mont Royal itself, opens some of its dorms to travellers during the summer. Since we had a potential McGill student in our group, we decided to spend a night.

The school is close to downtown and it's a quick walk downhill to the businesses on Sherbrook and another short walk to the Metro. However, the walk UPHILL at the end of the day is a grind! Rooms are spartan singles, with not much more space than the cell you''d have at Alcatraz and perhaps fewer amenities. Worst of all - - no air conditioning. This may not be a problem 51 weeks of the year, but was difficult for us.

On the upside, the price is low - $37.50 CDN per night for an adult, dropping to $31.50 CDN with a student ID, and you may meet some interesting people in the common areas. As my son said, in a dorm you don''t spend any time in your room anyhow!

For a student on a limited budget, this may be the best bargain in the city. The room price works out to only about $21 in US currency, there's a cafeteria for low priced meals, and the federal (GST) and provincial taxes (PST) added onto the room charge are recoverable for most travellers (See entry on Visitor Tax Refund for more details if interested.)

McGill University
845 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal, Quebec, H3A 2T5
(514) 398-4455

Castel Durocher

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on August 14, 2001

Castel (no, not ''castle'') Durocher is a bed and breakfast in an 1898 Queen Anne style Victorian home owned by Vincent and Sandrine. The building itself is narrow, so narrow that the first time we drove down the street we missed it. It''s very distinct in its style... a mix of rough and smooth granite blocks, a witch-hat shaped turret, a dark grey slate roof and a balcony over the front entrance!

Rooms are clean and comfortable with high ceilings. Some are unique: the Tintin room features twin beds with bedspreads and pillows of the French cartoon character, framed comic books and Vincent''s painting of Tintin in space on the windows. The Balcony room opens onto its own private balcony. There''s a Penguin room decorated with... well, you get the idea. With rooms available on different floors and a few different kitchen/breakfast areas, the B&B can simultaneously host a family and provide a romantic hide away. Make sure Vincent or Sandrine knows what type of experience you are looking for so they can take care of the logistics.

Continental breakfast is served each morning around 9 am - 9:30 on Mondays. This relatively late start is because croissants and baguettes are bought fresh from a nearby patisserie each morning. They don''t open until 8:30 am - 9 on Mondays - so that defines the breakfast hour! Coffee, juice and cold cereals are available earlier.

Limitations: no air conditioning which is not usually a problem, limited parking (3 spaces), the continental breakfast may be less hearty than some expect, breakfast may be served too late for some.

Castel Durocher
3488 Rue Durocher
Montreal, Quebec

Saute Mouton Rapids Ride

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on August 17, 2001

From May through October specially designed jet boats leave Montreal's Old Port for a thrashing, splashing, soak-you-to-the-bone trip through the Lachine Rapids. We've taken this trip three times now. Each has been a treat, but none could compare to this year's trip when the air temperature hovered around 100 degrees F.

About a half hour before scheduled departure you sit and watch a video for a better idea of what you're getting into, followed by an entertaining lecture given in both English and French on safety, clothing and boat procedures. Following the talk, if the group is large enough, it divides into two boats: English speakers in one, French in the other.

Normally, the cold water and cool breeze require special clothing. Start with the absolute certainty that anything you wear will get soaked. The Saute Mouton people provide an Army surplus wool sweater (wool retains body heat, even when wet), life jacket, windproof poncho and neoprene booties but all we wore this trip were the life jacket and booties.

Then its into the boat for a 15 minute trip up the Saint Lawrence River to the rapids. Approaching the rapids conversations always stop and an air of apprehension descends. A guide who clambers all over the boat with total disregard for his personal safety keeps reminding you what to do: hold onto the rail, stay seated, and keep your mouth shut when the water comes at you!

The name Saute Mouton comes from the early explorers who were reminded of sheep by the white capped waves in the rapids - mouton is French for 'sheep.' 'Saute' is French for jumping, so Saute Mouton means Jumping the Sheep. The only thing is in most cases you don't jump the sheep so much as power through them or get tossed around by them.

The boats are built low to the water: when you're that low, everything seems to be moving faster and the waves look so much larger. Don't misunderstand - the boats can fly and the waves are big, especially when one lands in your lap! And everyone - front, middle and back of the boat will have a couple of waves crash over them. The body of the boat will fill up with water 2/3 of the way up to your knee at times before the powerful jet engines clear it. After the first trip through, anxiety and fear disappear, turned to excitement and cheers. The boat turns and powers upriver for another trip through. You'll go through the rapids 6 times before heading back to shore; usually the complete trip takes a bit more than an hour.

It's pricey - It was about $53 CDN per adult, less for children (minimum age: 6). On a hot, sunny August day it's one of the most fun, most refreshing things to do in Montreal. On a cool day in May or October I'd think twice about it... but then I'd go anyhow!

Saute Mouton Lachine Rapids Jet Boat
Clock Tower Pier, Vieux-port
Montreal, Quebec

Biodome

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on August 17, 2001

The Biodome is a creative reuse of the Olympic Velodrome - the old bike racing venue. After years of trying to figure out what to do with this structure, in 1992 it was turned into an indoor zoo divided into four distinct ecosystems. Like most zoos, it's appreciated more by children than adults.

Go in the morning. On separate visits - years apart - by noon on a weekday there were horrendous lines at the ticket windows. Given the layout, it's hard to imagine that anyone would have a pleasant experience once they got in. There's a walkway 6 or 8 feet wide with viewing areas that winds through the building. In each sector birds and other animals either move about the space freely or are confined to a smaller area by creatively designed, often perfectly camouflaged barriers. People walk along, pausing to look into the leaves and trees to see if there's anything hiding there. Many times there is, but you'll need a sharp-eyed kid to find it for you! The first space is devoted to the Tropics, the next to the Laurentian forest. There's a wonderful change in humidity and temperature passing from one to the other! In all spaces, the Biodome seeks to mimic seasonal temperatures somewhat so the jump from the Tropics to the Canadian forest becomes more extreme in the winter. After the forest comes space devoted to the Saint Lawrence/Atlantic Ocean ecosystem. See the saltwater marine life from the underwater viewing room, then go above - but watch out for gulls and ducks flying overhead! The last area, representing the Polar Regions, is much smaller. Penguins, puffins and other birds of the arctic and antarctic hop around on rocks, dive into the water and swim around like small jet propelled torpedoes. Unfortunately, all this takes place behind thick glass, so visitors never get to feel the cold air.

Kids particularly enjoy searching for animals and relish pointing them out to their less observant parents or adult escorts. Without crowd congestion, plan to spend 60 to 75 minutes here. Price is $10 CDN for adults, $7 CDN for children. Showing an AAA card qualifies for a discount and discount coupons are available. I used coupons from the POM (a local bakery) Passport, a handout you can find free around town.

For my family this is highly recommended - we were here two years ago and had to come back. But you know your own children. Depending on their interests this could range anywhere from a big hit to a ho-hum.

Montreal Biodome
4777 Pierre-de-Coubertin Avenue
Montreal, H1V 1B3
(514) 868-3000

Montreal Expos Baseball

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on August 24, 2001

Olympic Stadium is a surprisingly nice place to see a ballgame, but with attendance figures so low, the team probably won't be in Montreal much longer. But, in an example of pretzel logic, it's the low attendance that makes the park such a great place to see a game. The park itself is a much-scorned 1970 vintage cookie cutter-enclosed, multi-use, Astro-turfed stadium, but you can get seats awfully close to the field!

I've been to major league games in seven different cities this year. In most cases, I lined up the tickets months in advance and wound up with seats ranging from pretty good to crummy. In Montreal, you can walk up to the ticket booth close to game time and sit almost wherever you want at a reasonable price.

The best seats in the park are the VIP seats (C$36). Ask if any VIP seats are available, and the likely response will be "Do you want first base, third base, or behind home plate?" In most parks, these seats are unavailable, sold to season ticket holders, but you can get them in Montreal! We walked up less than an hour before game time and sat behind the visitor's dugout, four rows up from the field! In Boston's Fenway Park, these seats cost US$55 and you can't get them without knowing someone or overpaying a ticket scalper.

Other seats are available from C$6 to C$26, and this year (2001), there are discounts every game. Depending on the day of the week, it's student day, ladies day, seniors day, or something else, with 50% off for members of the chosen group (no discounts apply to the VIP seats). Standing in the ticket line, I overheard someone say, "Wow! Do these people know how cheap these seats are?" The best way to do it is to buy the cheapest seats available, then move down closer to the action.

The toughest thing is finding the ticket windows. With attendance so low, not all the windows are open and there isn't an obvious crowd to follow. In fact, we wondered if we had misread the date of the game or if it had been cancelled for some reason when we went. The only windows that take credit cards are on ground level at the main entrance, inexplicably hidden beneath ramps and walkways, looking much like a service entrance.

Don't pay to park. There’s plenty of on-street parking available within a 10-minute walk.

It is strongly recommended for baseball fans.

Editor's Note: The Montreal Expos have relocated to Washington, D.C., and have been renamed the Washington Nationals.

Montreal Expos
4141 Pierre-de-Coubertin Ave
Montreal, Quebec, H1V 3H7
+1 514 790 1245

Canadian Visitor Tax Refund

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Foxboro Marmot on August 18, 2001

Not all visitors to Canada are aware that taxes paid on a variety of items are reimbursable. Non-residents who paid federal goods and services tax (GST) on short-term accomodations or goods can get that money back by filing within one year of the date the tax was paid. Further, until November 1, 2001, visitors can also recover Quebec Sales Tax (TVQ or PST) paid on short-term accomodations. If included in a tour package, only one-half of the tax on accomodations is refundable. The form itself is easy to use.

There are some limitations. The total of purchases involved, before taxes, must exceed $200 CDN. Original receipts - not credit card slips - must accompany the filing. Each individual receipt must exceed $50 CDN before taxes. Unfortunately, taxes paid with restaurant expenses and admission tickets are not eligible.

Type "Canada visitor tax refund" into any internet search engine and you'll get a variety of pages back. Most are services which, for a small fee, will take your paperwork, process it, and return you a check in $US. I've used a couple based in Washington state in the past and found them reputable. You can also go to the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency at their website to get the form and cut out the middleman. US residents will even get a check in US currency, eliminating the inconvenience of curency conversion.

It doesn't make a big difference economically, but it's nice to get something back from the government - any government!


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