Saturday, November 05, 2011

Domes, Bugs, and Carrots

Had a good first day in Montreal. Breakfast at the hotel (Auberge du Vieux Port), coffee at Equi-Tasse. Then walked over to Berri-UQAM station to take the metro to the Biodome and Insectarium. (Not to be confused with the Biosphere.) Managed to figure out the metro without too much trouble, although it definitely seems to be aimed more at locals than tourists - few maps or instructions, and scant ticket machines.

The Biodome is next to the Olympic stadium, both are pretty amazing structures. The Biodome is split into four sections. First, the tropical section. I immediately saw some monkeys up in a tree and pulled out my camera. Big mistake - bringing a cold camera from barely above freezing outside into a hot humid tropical atmosphere inside immediately fogged it up totally. No photos for a while!

I smiled when I saw the capybara. The last time I saw a capybara was in the wild, beside a rain forest river in Peru. The river otters were entertaining as always. The beaver came out of the water to grab some food (half a potato?). There was a porcupine up in a tree.

Scuba divers were feeding the fish in a huge tank. At the surface, sea birds were paddling around. In the polar area puffins and penguins were entertaining. The penguins were fat little torpedoes in the water. 

From the Biodome it's a short walk to the Insectarium in the Botanical Gardens. It's not very big, but it's well worth visiting, if you enjoy the wonders of nature. It's a mix of dead and live bugs. Both are amazing!

Back at Berri-UQAM I hunted for a late lunch. I had recommendations, but they were all a long way away. Yelp showed a vegetarian restaurant, L'Escalier, with a good rating just a block away so I gave it a try. It turned out to be pretty funky as you can tell from the front door! (Maybe a little too funky for my liking!) I ordered soup and a sandwich. Somehow I only got the soup. It could have been my French, but I think they just weren't paying attention. The waitress was in the process of leaving and the cook was trying to have his own lunch. Oh well, the soup was good.

I'm not sure if I'm looking more like a local this trip, or if people don't expect tourists this time of the year. Whatever the reason, people keep trying to talk to me in French. And not just talk to me, but ask directions, including a kid on a skateboard! Previously, it seemed like everyone would switch to English as soon as I opened my mouth. Thankfully, I can usually figure out enough words to guess what they're asking, and give a finely crafted and exquisitely pronounced monosyllabic response :-)

I stopped at Equi-Tasse again for my afternoon coffee on the way back and started checking the internet for somewhere for supper. Of the recommendations I had collected, the only one that was nearby was Restaurant 400 Coups. But when I tried to make a reservation on-line, I could only get 9pm, and nothing available tomorrow. But I stopped by the restaurant and they offered me a spot at the bar at 6pm so I took it.

Supper was excellent. A glass of Canadian Gamay wine. A cucumber, grape, and goat cheese salad. And a main course of roasted carrots with whipped ricotta and mushrooms. Considering most chefs can't imagine a main course without meat, it's pretty amazing they would offer something centered on such a humble vegetable as the carrot. It was, of course, very tasty. And last, but not least, I had an exotic chocolate dessert that was scrumptious.

Those of you that don't know me so well probably won't believe this, but as much as I enjoy staying in wonderful boutique hotels and eating at fabulous restaurants, I'd really be just as happy freezing my butt off, feeling like crap at high altitude, sitting in a cramped tent in a storm on the side of some mountain. Somehow I've ended up in a situation where the former is much easier to do than the latter. Obviously took a wrong turn somewhere :-) And environmentally, there would be much less guilt on the mountain than in the hotel. Oh well, can't dwell on that right now, I have to get back to my hotel and get ready for my dinner reservation!

Here are some photos from the Biodome and Insectarium: (with the usual indoor low light challenges)

click to view photos

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