Summer of Awesome – Altitude Gym Clip and Climb

The Altitude Gym is a rock climbing gym over in Hull for serious rock climbers. Athletes in training can get out the chalk and the fancy sock-shoes and climb a variety of walls that are intensely challenging.

Not too kid friendly.

But! They have a totally awesome, one-of-a-kind, kick-ass back room: the Clip and Climb.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb

A mecca for little climbers everywhere. WHOO WHEE!

It’s several funky, offbeat, fun climbing walls and structures meant for amateurs and kids. You climb just in comfy clothes and regular running shoes.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb

You climb, and you climb, and you climb.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb

There’s easier walls and more challenging walls. Walls with lights, walls with doorknobs, walls that are made of velcro that you climb with velcro gloves.

There’s glow-in-the-dark walls, lego-themed walls, and timed walls for racing purposes. There’s also a series of pillars you can climb and those ones near the top are HIGH, OMG. Also wobbly. O. M. G.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb towers of terror

The Clip and Climb is meant for families and it’s especially great for a single parent with several kids in tow. That’s because the kids are able to clip themselves in, and once they are checked by a staff member, they’re free to climb. They don’t need anyone to hold the rope (“belay” is what the cool kids call it) at the bottom.

Why is that? Each wall in the Clip and Climb room has a giant retractable pulley thing at the top that holds the rope you are clipped to. As you climb, the rope coils up and stays taut, giving you a bit of support.

When you hit the top, you just let go, and the pulley thing provides counter weight, lowering you slowly to the ground. You tether the climbing rope to the ground, unclip your harness, and you’re free to run off to the next wall and climb away.

Now, some caveats: my kids were quite tentative at first, and even though they were allowed to climb on their own, they felt much more comfortable with a parent at hand. The Clip and Climb is not cheap, and Sir Monkeypants and I did not do a whole lot of climbing on our own, so if you are coming in with a lot of kids, it’s probably worth it not to climb yourself, and just act in a supervisory/supportive role. On the other hand, it did encourage our kids a lot to see us climbing ourselves, so that was worth it for inspiration purposes.

Another warning: the pulley system will definitely catch you when you let go…but, there’s a couple of feet of free fall before it kicks in. You really have to find the heart to trust the system and it can be a little scary the first time. The free fall thing actually did not seem to bother my kids at all, they were soon climbing then swinging away from the wall in a carefree manner. I personally, however, found it a bit alarming and every time I hit the top of a wall, I had to spend a minute or two talking myself into letting go. I am a HUGE WUSS. It was good for me, though.

Last tip: there are two structures in the Clip and Climb that cost extra. One is a giant slide – they pull you up on a hand hold to the top, then you let go and literally fall straight down before sliding out the curved end. It’s SUPER FUN – all three of our kids LOVED it – but a tad expensive at an extra $4 per slide. Then there’s the Leap of Faith – a tower with a crane where you can climb up to a platform, then leap out into space and try to catch the swing on the end of the crane. Again, it costs an extra $4 to try this stunt and it’s a real test of your mettle – we saw a few smaller kids back out.

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb Giant Slide
This is the giant slide – I was too gutless to try it, but the kids loved it.

Now, let’s talk details. First, you need to reserve a spot for the Clip and Climb; your reservation covers 15 minutes of safety instruction and then an hour of climbing. You can usually call one or two days in advance and have your choice of time slots; I should mention that the Clip and Climb is only open on weekday evenings from 5 to 9, and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Your one hour of climbing isn’t cheap; the cost is $13.95 per person (regardless of age), and don’t forget the giant slide and Leap of Faith are extra. All in all, we spent close to $100 for our family-of-five Clip and Climb experience, so it’s not the kind of thing we’ll do every week; still, it was a unique experience, we loved the fact that our kids got to do something new and something physical. Since it’s indoors, it’s a great place to take antsy kids on a rainy or snowy day to blow off some steam, and it’s great if you’ve got a wide range of ages, since older kids and teens can have the run of the place on their own while you’re helping any youngsters.

Children under 5 require a one-to-one parent supervisor; however, I’m not sure I’d go much younger than five for this activity. Precocious four-year-olds who really love to climb and have a lot of energy would have a good time; younger than that will likely find the walls too tough and maybe too scary.

Our own five-year-old is a tentative little girl, and she required quite a bit of coaxing just to go three or four feet up in the air on a handful of walls. She’s still quite anxious to go back, though. OF COURSE.

Overall, we all give the Clip and Climb a Summer of Awesome Must Do.

Hey look, that's me!
Hey, that’s me!

Summer of Awesome – Paul’s Boat Lines

A few weeks ago, some friends of mine from high school had a reunion here in town. One of the events was a tour of the Ottawa River on Paul’s Boat Lines.

At first I wasn’t going to bring the kids, because I thought they’d be bored. But when they got wind of the fact that Mommy was going Boating, they were IN. I have no idea what they were picturing, but apparently the concept of a boat ride is romantic and exotic and SUPER FUN – and actually, it turned out to be pretty much just that.

The tour lasts for about an hour and a half, and leaves from the dock right at the tip of the Rideau Canal. Just getting there was half the fun – you have to take the stairs down from the bridge that’s beside the Chateau Laurier, then walk all along the locks to the very tip. If it’s a weekend, you’re likely to see the locks in action, with dozens of pleasure boats travelling through; if you’re not in a rush, you can also check out the Bytown Museum, which is along the path. We were lucky enough to be heading out on the Civic Holiday Weekend, which is the weekend of the Rideau Canal Festival, so the entire path to the boat was paved with musicians, artists, crafts, and activities – bonus!

Once you reach the dock, it’s time to board, and the tour begins right away. There’s an upper and lower level on the boat – the upper level is cooler (it’s shaded), and a better place to sit to see the sights and hear the (charming and funny) tour guide. The lower level has booths, so it’s a good place to relax with a drink (the boat is licensed) or strike up a card game with antsy children.

We sat up top and were dazzled by amazing views and fascinating trivia.

Parliament Buildings from the Ottawa River
The best view of the Parliament Buildings ever.

Rideau Falls
Up close and personal with the Rideau Falls – I am ashamed to admit I did not know these existed.

24 Sussex Drive
The Prime Minister’s house – SLIGHTLY larger than mine.

Paul's Boat Lines
My youngest having a King Of The World moment.

This is just a fraction of the cool places we saw. Did you know that the statue on Nepean Peak by the Art Gallery is of Samuel de Champlain, and that he is holding his astrolabe upside down? Did you know that the Ottawa River used to be called the Mighty Kitchississippi? Did you know that SO MANY foreign ambassadors live in PALACES (OMG). Did you know that Gatineau is the prettiest little town ever?

Our kids actually enjoyed seeing the sights – my middle daughter in particular can’t stop talking about the “big house with five chimneys” (that’s 24 Sussex). They also just loved being out front on the boat, feeling the breeze from the river and comparing all the bridges. It was just a really pleasant, quiet way to spend a hot summer afternoon.

There’s a small tuck shop on the lower level, so warning: there will be pressure to purchase chips. Chips on a boat taste better, don’t you know?

Paul’s isn’t the only boat tour company downtown (there’s a few fancier ones, and there’s also Lady Dive, the bus that turns into a boat), but Paul’s tour of the Ottawa River was the perfect size and duration for our kids. There were several of us on board who were actually from Ottawa, and we all learned stuff we never knew and saw stuff we’d never seen, which boggles my mind.

Paul’s Boat Lines also offers a slightly shorter tour of the Rideau Canal – that one is going on our next year’s Summer of Awesome list.

Tours run from June 28 through September 2; the daily schedule is here. Tickets are $23 adults, $14 for children aged 6-12 (five and under are free), and group rates are available. You can buy tickets at the kiosk downtown which is right across the street from the Chateau Laurier; unless it’s a holiday weekend, you can likely just head downtown on the day-of and get tickets for the next boat.

Ahoy, mateys!

Summer of Awesome – National Gallery of Canada

Last week I took the kids to the National Gallery to see the Van Gogh exhibit, which is in town only until September. The kids complained LOUDLY and FREQUENTLY about being made to visit the art gallery. I suspect that they saw it as more of a homework/school type outing than something really fun. It probably didn’t help that Gal Smiley did a unit on Van Gogh in art class this year so I kept saying how wonderful it was that she could see some of his work in person, how enriching and what a great opportunity.

No wonder they think Sir Monkeypants is the fun one.

Anyway, we went. And we did have a pretty good time overall.

National Gallery of Canada

Here are some things you will NOT be doing at the National Gallery, if you attend with your young children:

  • sitting and gazing quietly before a favourite work of art, as you contemplate its deeper meaning
  • wandering joyfully through back galleries as you discover new artists to love
  • sharing teachable moments with your children as you open their eyes to the wonderful process that is man’s artistic growth

No, you will not.

However! Fun can still be had, if you keep a few things in mind.

Arrive Late. The museum opens at 10 a.m., but there’s no point in getting there before 11. That’s when the Artissimo program opens. Artissimo is the gallery’s program for kids and it is excellent and fun and awesome, and SO much better than just wandering through the galleries aimlessly with children who would rather be jumping on stuff. It runs only on the weekends during the year but in the summer, the program is open every day.

What makes Artissimo so great? It’s a wide variety of activities meant to engage the younger crowd. First of all, kids aged 3 and up can make their own work of art, using real art paper and a stellar selection of tools. Gal Smiley created this lion picture using watercolour pencils – pencil crayons that create a paint effect when water is added.

Gal Smiley artwork, National Gallery of Canada

To help kids explore the gallery, there’s also two self-guided tours you can take – one about animals in art, one about cool architecture. There’s an audio tour, where you are led to certain artworks and then you play a sound, and try to connect the two. There are costumes where you can dress up and pretend to be people from various pictures.

And best of all, there’s the dolls.

William the Doll, Artissimo Program, National Gallery of Canada

This is William. He’s one of five different gorgeous, painstakingly detailed dolls that are part of the Artissimo program. You can sign out a doll, then search the gallery (with some hints and clues) to find the painting featuring the character. My girls loved this activity, we did every single doll and learned a lot about art in the process. It was the clear highlight.

Visit the Van Gogh exhibit, but have low expectations. The Van Gogh exibit is really, really good. It does not feature his most famous works – no Starry Nights or Sunflowers or self-portraits with missing ears. However, it does include dozens of his other paintings and the way they are laid out clearly traces the paths of his various influences.

I learned a lot about his style, his use of colour, and his favourite themes, and all that despite racing through the exhibit at top speed. My kids complained a LOT during the exhibit – shuffling through rooms of art, surrounded by crowds, was SO BORING they could just DIIIIIIIIE. So we hurried through, but even then they couldn’t avoid picking out a favourite painting or two, and learning a little bit along the way.

Plus, there’s an interactive room near the end where you can create your own work of art on an iPad; do a large magnetic wall puzzle; listen to Van Gogh-era music; and write a letter to Van Gogh and receive an email reply in his own words. The lady running this room (Maddie, I think) was super welcoming to the kids and they really had fun here.

As an added bonus, kids under 12 are free – so it only cost me my own entry fee, $25, which also covered my museum admission.

Follow the rules, Oh my heavens, the National Gallery is a rules-y kind of place. They are BIG on the rules. And you will be warned, repeatedly, to FOLLOW THE RULES.

Sheesh.

No backpacks are allowed, no kinds of large bags or anything you would carry on your back or waist. Ladies can bring a handbag if it isn’t too big, and I believe you can get an exception for diaper bags. My kids are big enough now that I don’t need to carry diapers around, but I do like to bring our own snacks due to the food allergy thing, so I often use a backpack – at the gallery, you have to check it. Speaking of snacks, the cafeteria there is a little high class – soups and fancy salads type fare – so if your kids are more of a chicken nuggets and french fries crowd, you may wish to bring your own food (in a checked backpack, of course) or perhaps plan your trip between mealtimes.

No photos of any kind allowed anywhere, except in the open glassed-in tower where the Artissimo program runs. (I may have taken that photo of William the doll, above, in the bathroom. I admit nothing.) If they even see you thinking about taking out your camera, they’re on you.

No getting too close to the art. No touching the art! No breathing on the art. That’s too close. Maybe you shouldn’t even LOOK AT THE ART.

SHEESH.

I swear every single security guard in the place came over to us and warned us, in every single room, about stepping back from the art. My kids aren’t even that young – 9, 7, and 5. I can’t imagine the headache involved in trying to explain to your two year old why that line of bricks on the floor is art, and we musn’t touch it, or step on it, or come within three feet of it. GAH.

So be sure to travel light, leave your camera in your handbag, and stay back. FARTHER BACK.

Once we were done with the Van Gogh exhibit and settled into the Artissimo stuff, my kids relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Despite their best efforts, they even learned something, as demonstrated by the quiz I gave them on the ride home.

Told you I’m not the fun one.