BIXI Montreal Subscriptions for Tourists

Visiting Montreal between Spring and Fall means it is BIXI bike season!

While the BIXI web site does not make it clear, it is possible for US residents to sign up for a BIXI subscription.
30-day membership is CA$30 for the 2016 season and it is worth it even if you are just visiting for at least 7 days in a 30-day period. These subscriptions also offer 45 minute rides instead of the normal 30 minute rides.

Sign up for the subscription a couple of days before your arrival. The sign up page will ask for a Canadian address. Use your hotel address. You'll receive an email confirming subscription and if the email says that they are going to mail the BIXI key to the address, then call the BIXI customer service center and tell them not to send the key and that you'll pick up the key personally.

You can pick up the key from a handful of main STM Metro Stations during normal working hours. Berri-UQAM is one of the stations that is also open on the weekend.

Once you have the key, call up customer service and they will attach the key to your account and activate it.

BIXI key instructions has a picture and instructions on using the key - ready to ride!

Be sure to read the FAQ and the Instructions at the BIXI web site. Any mistake can end up with $1000+ charge on your credit card. Be sure to check that the LED indicator turns green after you return and dock a bike.

Disclaimer: The above instructions worked for me in 2016. Be sure to read up all the BIXI rules on their website and also call up the customer service center for any additional information.

In addition to the key, it is quite critical to have a smartphone with a data plan since the BIXI phone app is critical to have. Many times you'll find docks full or no bikes at docks so having an app to quickly see all nearby BIXI stations with available bikes or free docks on a map is essential.

New York MetroCard Refill Calculator

Yet another MetroCard refill calculator! Tourists to New York will likely use the stored-value version of the MetroCard. New York MTA makes things difficult by making it hard to figure out how much money to add to minimize leftover amounts, given that they offer a bonus on purchases over a certain amount.

While there are many calculators and Android and iPhone applications that claim to do this, those calculators try to bring the leftover amount to zero. But a tourist is more likely interested in getting a certain number of tickets, and paying for it without having too much leftover - keep it under a nickel, for example.

That is exactly what this calculator does. Use it to get a table of all possible additional subway rides based on current balance on a NYC MetroCard. It also offers a no-rounding mode, which may work for cash purchases at a manned ticket booth.

Also available in the Google Play Store as an Android app that can work offline without internet access.

The source code for this project is available at nyc-metrocard-refill (originally at It uses the identical HTML/CSS/JavaScript code for both the online web pages and the offline Android app.

App has been updated in June 2015, with the new rates and bonus amounts.

Floating baths in Montreal

Ovarium Spa is an interesting, unique experience. They have one-person private enclosed bath pods which are filled with so much Epsom salts that the human body floats in it! The first half-hour felt odd floating around and trying various positions, but then it feels good and time goes by too fast and it is all over.

The place is very nice. Very high ceiling waiting areas with high-quality decor and surroundings. And quite full even on a weekday, so must be popular in Montreal.

Floating in salty water does require some preparation. There must be no cuts or wounds on your skin - otherwise the salt water will sting! Even scratched dry skin without visible marks will end up stinging a bit in the water. They do offer Vaseline for minor scratches which may be of some help. When floating around must be careful not to touch your eyes with your fingers since there will be too much salt on your fingers. And when inside the pod, it is much nicer with the pod lights and the music turned off. Leave the room lights on and just close the pod door for a completely enclosed experience.

The Ovarium Spa web site is in both English and French.

From Travel - Montreal 2013 Nov


Poutine has arrived in Edmonton!

Best poutine: The Cheese Factory makes cheese onsite and sells Poutine - squeaky cheese experience guaranteed. They keep short hours, so check times before making the trek.
More info at this blog: eating is the hard part.

If that is closed or if you are close to U of Alberta grounds, visit La Poutine. They source their cheese from Cheese Factory and all they serve is Poutine, so they know what they are doing here.

There are quite a few more places that serve Poutine in Edmonton, but be careful of some of the delis which claim to sell poutine but their versions use shredded mozzarella! Makes no sense - poutine is always cheese curds, never shredded cheese.

Fringe Festival

Edmonton has the largest fringe festival in North America. Usually runs for 10 days in the middle- to end of August.
Some street performances, and lots of ticketed stage shows of up and coming artists. Shows are usually high-quality, and most seem to deal with somewhat mature or young-adult themes. Good, but can be a bit heavy.

There are also a bunch of food trucks at the festival - but the food quality in general was quite poor while also being expensive. So come here for the street fun, performances, and theater, not for the food.

6 hours layover in London Airport - Visit London City too

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.

Explore Montreal by Metro and Bus

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.

Montreal Jazz Festival 2012

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

Besh O Drom Les Performances TD main stage (Clip 1)
Besh O Drom Les Performances TD main stage (Clip 2)

Chicha Libre Les Tropiques stage

Chromeo Event closing performance (Clip 1) Electronica rules!

Sideshows in the designated activity areas:

Official video clips of most of the music shows: All Videos (though not sure how long they will keep the official site up).

Montreal Jazz Festival

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:

  • Visit for as many days as you can. 5 days seems like a good minimum. Try to be there for one of the two or three special event concerts which are held on the first day, the last day, and in the middle of the festival duration.
  • Roughly figure out what shows you want to see. Go to the first one, and then move around if you wish - multiple shows going on. Explore all areas of the festival. Watch a repeat performance if you liked the band. Discover new music, and new sounds, all of which is chosen to get the crowd going.
  • While standing close to the stage is always a good spot, you can also enjoy the show from further off - just make sure you can see the people on the stage. Don't get too close for the special events though - it can get claustrophobic - for special events, they have big screens in the back, so can safely enjoy it from afar. The fun is in watching the musicians play, and watching the people in the audience go all crazy and gyrate and move to the music. Participate - at least tap your foot and shake your noggin!
  • For old folks like me, this is back-breaking business - my back certainly can't take standing for more than one hour, and each performance here is 60 minutes, with 90 minutes each for the three special shows. Some people bring portable tripod-based seats. But usually easy to just sit on the ground.
  • For taking good photos or videos, bring a tripod or a monopod.

Unknown Singer in 59th St Subway NYC

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].

Desafío Extremo: Polo Norte

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: 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