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.

Le Club Sandwich - Closed

Le Club Sandwich - Closed

2015 December. Closed. This restaurant, and other bars and entertainment joints in the building, all boarded up and closed. The news about that whole Bourbon Complex Building is that it likely was a result of illegal construction and in the end was put up for sale to satisfy creditors.

Le Club Sandwich open 24/7. Huge place, cool old fashioned decor.
Near metro Papineau in Montreal at 1570 Ste Catherine St.
Way off the tourist track, but useful to know for late night poutine.
Excellent poutine. Very hearty, thick fries, and they really put on the gravy, which makes it even better.

Google Chromebook tips

[Updated after a week - Chromebook is actually a pain to use, not yet ready for prime time. Fine if you are always online, even then, user experience is not smooth. There are just too many bugs - which means that they will be fixed in due time, but the existence of such basic problems makes it hard to recommend Chrome to everyone at this time. Worse - its offline mode is buggy - I lost hours of work. Read on.]

Having played with the new Google Chromebook for a week now, it is a great device! Well, so I thought after one day of use. After a week, ran into too many bothersome issues, some are listed below. I've played with both the 2012 devices: Samsung Chromebook (US$249) and Acer Chromebook (US$199).

Samsung device looks sleeker, and boots faster (10 seconds), and needs no internal fan. Acer looks a bit clunkier, but its CPU is slightly faster (20% in some web tests), and has a huge 320G hard drive. Full reviews available on the web as well as youtube, and it is worth reading through a few to get some tips on how to use this device well.
web search YouTube search.

Turn off all phone roaming

Summary: remember to turn off all roaming - not just data-roaming - to avoid excessive phone company charges.

When traveling with your phone, everyone now seems to be aware of the excessive and unexpected costs that show up on the phone bill after your travel.
Phone companies very sneakily gouge customers on roaming charges. So when you search for this topic on the web, there are numerous pages that explain how to turn off roaming.

That help is misleading, since it is for data roaming only, and that is not sufficient. Data is the big problem of course, but there is also the problem of voice and text - sending and receiving phone calls and text messages.

And at least on the Android phones, there is no indication of this happening too. You take your phone from US to say Canada or Europe, and think you are all good - you've turned off data roaming, which was easy to do in the Settings. But then your phone rings - you are surprised, hey, US phone works in this country? You pick up the phone, you talk, and BAM! you are now liable for multiple dollars per minute of charges. And there is no help in the Android menus to indicate you are being billed roaming charges. You did not receive any warning, and if you continue to use your phone and make calls, you'll get hit with large bills when you get back home.

Sadly, there is no easy way to turn off voice and text roaming on a Android smartphone.
This is too bad - it lays a trap for unwary customers.

A multi-step workaround: Go into Settings, More... button, and turn on Airplane mode.
But this turns off WiFi too, which is not desirable. Go back into Settings and turn on WiFi.
This is better! Took a few steps, but now you won't have any phone company surprises.
And GPS still continues to work, at least in one of the phones I tried.

Absolute Bagels - 2788 Broadway, New York

Absolute Bagels - 2788 Broadway, New York

2788 Broadway (between 107th and 108th St) - near Columbia U / Upper West Side NYC.
Phone: +1-212-932-2052 and +1-212 932-2105

These bagels are the best in New York City and therefore in all of the US. Perfect combination of chewy exterior and light interior. And they taste great too. Of course, people who like their bagels dense and chewy may not appreciate these bagels, but try these once and you might just change your mind. My second choice bagel place in NYC is Russ & Daughters at 179 East Houston Street, near Chinatown. Have tried all the usual other well-known places, but Absolute Bagels has the best bagels.

Mornings - especially weekends, be prepared for long lines. And if you want sesame bagels, arrive a few hours before closing - they usually run out. This is important for me since every few months or so I buy a dozen plus bagels from NYC to carry back to Boston - really a downer when they run out of bagels. Best to call if you are going to get there late afternoon or evenings.

Unlike Montreal bagels, NYC bagels are pretty big. Which actually may be what allows them to freeze very well. They easily last 3-6 months in the freezer, and thaw out nicely, and still taste great. No need to slice them before freezing too, in fact, they are better off not sliced beforehand. Montreal bagels are good too, but they just don't freeze well - they don't taste as good after a stint in the freezer, have to eat them fresh.

Absolute Bagels Price: $12/dozen bagels (2012), $15 (2016). They have a small seating area, and also offer the usual toppings - cream cheeses, salmon, etc.

Xi'an Famous Foods - 41-28 Main St

Xi'an Famous Foods - 41-28 Main St

41-28 Main St, in the underground Golden Mall, Flushing, Queens, New York.

More info: Flushing's Chinatown.

2012 Montreal Jazz Festival

Writeup, along with some video clips also available: Montreal Jazz Festival 2012

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.

US Health Care - Confusing and Confounding

The US medical system continues to confuse and confound - this time my strange tale is regarding the worst aspect of this system - the pricing and the billing.

Some conservatives loudly trumpet that consumers must be made aware of medical costs and that such comparison shopping will reduce the cost of medical care in the US medical system.

Bah, humbug, I say! The system is geared towards making that not work at all. The people who wish to self-insure and pay out of their pocket end up getting a raw deal.

The biggest problem with "comparison shopping" for medical care is that it is not possible. When you are in the doctor's office, and he or she tells you to get a bunch of tests done or a bunch of exams from other specialists - it is impossible to start asking questions and inquire about costs. Then we are told that before getting such exams done, the consumers should call up the insurance company and the doctor to make sure the costs involved are understood. This fails too - it is difficult to get a reasonable answer from them - since they can't know the cost until they examine the patient. And there are so many rules and exceptions that it is really not possible to get any idea of the cost involved before the treatment.

Even after all that, when the time comes to bill the consumer - the self-insured consumer who wants to pay from their own pocket gets completely shafted by the system.

In this story, my mistake was assuming that when my insurance said things like: "we cover preventive care", "we don't cover dental", and "we don't cover eye-glasses", it meant that they would cover preventive eye exams. That was completely wrong. They did not cover preventive eye care.