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

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.

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.

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).

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].

Breckenridge Ski Review

Breckenridge, Colorado claims to be one of the largest and most-visited ski resorts in North America, but it is not easy to get much information on the mountain related to ski trail reviews. All the search engines spew out is sales info on condos and travel packages. Here are some usable reviews: NYTimes, Dom's Skiing Breckenridge, Epinions.

So, here's a collection of brief points and answers a first-time traveler might want to know. Mostly from the point of view of intermediate skiers, who may also handle a few of the black diamond expert trails.
Here's a (large PDF) Breckenridge trail map.

  • Altitude-sickness is real! There is a lot of information on this on the web. For recreational skiers, not a serious problem, just take headache medicines every day - good chance of a splitting headache everyday. Climbing uphill is also a strain, so avoid it.
  • It is not called Brecken-wind for nothing. Extremely windy and blustery at the top of the lifts. One of the days, the important Beaver Run Superchair was closed all morning, causing major backups on other lifts. And Peak 10 Falcon Superchair was also closed - which meant no Peak 10 skiing.
  • Pre-peak season such as end of January is nice - not very crowded, but still great packed powder conditions. Most lifts had no waits, or very short waits, except for some of the key Peak 8 and Peak 9 lifts. Definitely nothing like the reported 45-minute waits during peak season here. Entry to lifts is not always well organized - just a mass of people all converging to the chair and merging crowds. Easier to squeeze in from the outer rows.