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Given six or more hours between arrival and departure at London, it is possible to make a quick trip into London City. This should easily give around 90 minutes of time in London, assuming 1 hr of travel time from the Airport to Piccadilly Circus.
There are caveats - sometimes, the tube and/or security at London can be a long drawn out affair. But having just made this quick run, I ended up with 45 minutes to spare at London for my departure, so it was all quite comfortable.
Of course, all I did at Piccadilly Circus is walk around a few blocks, basically just exploring streets, shops, and small parks. And the tube ride itself was a novelty. All this activity is much more fun than lounging around at Heathrow!
So here's how it all worked out: Arrived at Heathrow at 9AM. Felt awake and good, so decided to try out a trip to the City. Immigration was quick, under 5 minutes. Note that some passengers are not allowed out of Heathrow - so be sure to check your transit status.
9:30AM was at the Underground station. There is also a faster Heathrow Express, but it is far more expensive, and not really worth it to get to Piccadilly Circus since it requires changing trains at Paddington. Best to just stick to the more frequent tube, and sit in one place for the entire journey.
The Montreal Metro system includes the subway trains and road buses.
These offer excellent ways to explore the city of Montreal.
STM home page has fares and routes and schedules information.
Exploring Montreal is quite easy using the metro system. The subway trains are good to go someplace fast, and then take a bus to enjoy the street views without exerting much energy. Then, come back to visit the places and restaurants that look interesting.
Astonishingly, the buses manage to keep close to the published schedule. Never seen this happen in any other major city! Some routes at peak hours do miss schedules, given the traffic congestion. Though most times you can depend on the schedule. And there are many smartphone apps that provide schedule information. Here's a good Android app: Transport Montreal by Rhatec. It works offline too, and is indispensable when waiting for some of the less frequent routes.
Fares: Buy the 24hr-from-first-use (aka 1-day), or 3-day (expires midnight 3rd day), or CAM Hebdo Weekly (Mon-Sun validity) pass, for easy travel without worrying about transfers or counting tickets.
The bus routes for sightseeing:
15 east: Travels along Ste Catherine St, the main tourist hot-spot in Montreal. Board at the starting point which is the Atwater Metro station, and disembark at the final stop at the Papineau metro.
55 north: Goes along St Laurent, another important street. Take this from Chinatown, near St Laurent Metro, or a bit more south on St Laurent St, and go north in the bus.
This year was the 33rd edition of the festival and it ran from Jun 28 through July 7.
They had 800+ concerts, 600+ activity/animation areas around the festival!
For general festival details and tips, visit this local page: Montreal Jazz Festival.
A few samples from the 2012 Montreal Jazz Festival, and the stage where they played [ site map ]:
Sidi Touré Les Soirées Jazzy stage
The Pitbull of Blues Band Les Soirées Blues stage
Bob Harrisson Les Soirées Blues stage
Danakil Groove stage
La Chiva Gantiva Les Tropiques stage
Lady Linn and her Magnificent Seven Les Soirées Jazzy stage
Chicha Libre Les Tropiques stage
Chromeo Event closing performance (Clip 1) Electronica rules!
Official video clips of most of the music shows: All Videos (though not sure how long they will keep the official site up).
Held in the middle of summer around the first week of July, this 10 day festival is lot of fun and everyone can enjoy it - from families on vacations to solo travelers. The city of Montreal is a large part of why this is so much fun of course - great city, nice people (but all Canadians are nice!), and lot of interesting food.
Tips for enjoying the festival:
There is always something interesting wherever you go in New York.
This weekend, waiting for the #1 downtown train at the 59th St station, the subway travelers were treated to a really incredible singer. She was on the opposite side platform, so the snippet Video of the Unknown 59th St Singer is a bit dark and noisy, but the singer's voice comes through quite nicely. A snapshot grabbed from the video.
The video is of Mad World, Google search says it is by Gary Jules (Mad World), also on Donnie Darko Soundtrack. And covered by many other singers as well. But this unknown singer on the subway, she was the best, and she had the best stage too!
And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying, Are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it's a very very
Mad World, Mad World ...
The lyrics fit the haunting voice of the singer very well, but she was even better in a previous song she sang,
Simon And Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair.
Really, really, great to hear such nice singing, in the busy underground world of NYC subways. To whoever that singer was, thank for your singing this weekend [2011-Nov-12].
Extreme Challenge: To the North Pole
I recently stumbled onto a great hour-long show on a Spanish TV channel V-Me, of a group trying to trek up to the North Pole. No English subtitles, but great to watch anyway. Nothing but snow and ice all around and very cold. No other people too, until they reach the North Pole itself.
Cool gear: Transformer-like canoes - used as a gear slide, as a boat, or tied together as a catamaran to navigate the waters between ice fields in the Arctic. There was a time when I thought it would be great to trek across some of the Arctic or Antarctic in the cold. But now I prefer to watch it on TV and am content to taste a minuscule bit of the real thing by braving the cold in New Hampshire, USA and parts of Canada, secure in the knowledge that a nice warm building is always close by to run into once it becomes unbearably cold!
The show has a blog, looks like they attempted this a few times before reaching Pole Norte: Cuatro.com: Desafío Extremo: Polo Norte
YouTube seems to have the show too, this part is quite interesting. On reaching Polo Norte, two of them challenge each other to a bathing-suit run! In -35C/-31F weather! One of them ups the ante and even jumps into the water - which was at -0.5C/31F. Brrrrr! So that person jumped from warm water into the air, experiencing a 60F degree drop in temperature in an instant! And wind-chill was probably crazy too... amazing!
YouTube: Desafío extremo: Polo Norte, en el confín del mundo 4/5
Warden Message: Argentina Airport Entry Fee from the Buenos Aires US Embassy, and other web pages such as TripAdvisor: Airport Entry Fee for U.S. Citizens beginning Dec 20, 2009 and Argentine Post: Argentina to Charge Americans confirm that now visitors from the US (and Canada, and a few other countries) will be dinged on both arrival and departure.
This is a Reciprocity Fee - Argentina has now started to charge the same amount - US$131 per person - that the US charges for Argentinos to obtain a visa. Still, this is disconcerting - to be charged that much on arrival to visit a city. The charge is to be levied once per every 10 years per traveler.
And there is a Departure Tax also - seems like it is around US$29 now.
Add to this the more than 20% inflation Argentina has seen in the 2000s, the lure of visiting Argentina is getting dimmer and dimmer.
List of all my favorite restaurants and food markets in Montreal. Some of these are described in more detail in the links. Photos are available in the Montreal Photo Gallery.
A map showing locations of all these restaurants is in the Montreal Restaurants Map posting.
The most memorable experiences in my travels are invariably the local street food vendors. In Buenos Aires, there are two places that are great for this - Costanera Norte, and Costanera Sur.
In picking a street vendor in Buenos Aires, the key thing to look for is the range of condiments available! This is such a great advantage over restaurant eating where you get only one or two choices, out in the street they lay out all the options for you to see, and pick out. There can be multiple variations on the chimichurri sauce, the standard red one, one with ají picante (excellent, and quite spicy), one a la provenzal (green parsley and garlic, maybe spicy or not). There will be mustard, mayo, ketchup and salsa criolla (onions, tomatoes). Never in a restaurant will you get all this, even in street vendors, not all street vendors serve all of these options, but it is worth walking around to find one with the range you need.
As for meat, it is of course parilla style, grilled meat. Bondiola (pork), hamburger, and the best of all - choripan is available. The paty bread for hamburger was never very good, texture and quality is poor. The choripan or bondiola uses pan for the sandwich, somewhat similar to large french bread loaf and much better tasting, though can make for messy eating since it is a bit tough. Add the other oily condiments, and maybe the cheese which also is invariably oily in Buenos Aires, and this is really messy eating, but it is all worth it. The taste, the experience, is something that will be cherished for a long time.
acelga - swiss chard, for example in a tarta de acelga
achuras a la parrilla - internal organs, grilled. Study up on your Spanish terms for internal organs!
alfajores - cookies - corn-flower biscuits sandwich filled with dulce-de-leche, and coated in powdered sugar, or chocolate or meringue
al punto - medium - as in level to which to cook steak
asado - grilled
asado de tira - grilled short-ribs
bife de chorizo - strip steak, considered the most popular cut here
bife de costilla - ribs
bife de lomo - tenderloin, filet mignon
bondiola, bondiola de cerdo - pork shoulder. Bondiola sandwiches are quite popular, available at every street food stall, especially on the Costanera Sur and Norte
budin de pan - bread pudding
carne de ternera - veal
candilejas - small round empanadas, found them at a chain named Gourmet, their tag line: Empanadas Caseras, La empanada rellena. They had candilejas with muzzarella, chorizo colorado, y rodajas de ají en vinagre.
carne de ternera - veal
casero - home-made
chimichurri - sauce for grilling, and using as a condiment, available in multiple variations. Provenzal, agreen chimichurri tastes really good and contains parsley and garlic. Most places though seem to have a a mixture of dry oregano, olive oil, some garlic and red pepper flakes, and this reddish mixture does not taste that good though it may work well as a grilling paste. Pictures: Salas and Provenzal on a plate.
chinchulin - intestine
chivito - goat meat. but in neighboring Uruguay, this is a name for the steak sandwich, completo
chocolate amargo - bitter chocolate
chopp - draft beer