All posts by Avinash

Gardens of Light | Space for life | Jardin Botanique | Montreal

A fall event that will light up the three Jardin botanique cultural gardens in grand style. It is a must-see event, and only from Sep 7 – Oct 31 (2018 dates). The lighted trees and sculptures are enchanting to see in the dark night.

The three spaces are:

  • First Nations Garden
  • Japanese Garden
  • Chinese Garden

The Chinese Garden is the most elaborate presentation. There is a good Circle of Life presentation, projected on a tree, at the First Nations Garden.

Allow 90+ minutes for entire visit.

The Gardens of Light ticket is purchased separately and allows entry only at a specific time.
That same ticket also allows access to the greenhouses in the botanical garden on that day. Touring that takes 90+ minutes and is worth visiting too. The greenhouses have plants and trees from all over the world.
So arrive a couple of hours before your Gardens of Light time and visit both the greenhouses as well the lighted cultural gardens.

Photo album:

Gardens of Light – Jardin Botanique – Montreal 2018 / Google Photos

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Actually upper-upper west side, Manhattan, NYC.

I explored around Broadway from 96th to 110 St. Train #1.

Photo Album

Sal and Carmine: pizza slices. Spinach is very good.

Xi’an Famous Foods: Started in Flushing, Queens and now all over NYC. Cumin lamb noodles or cumin burger is addictive food.

Absolute Bagels: Some of the best bagels in NYC. 108th and Broadway.

Eat a pizza slice at Sal and Carmine, walk up 20 blocks to buy bagels for everyone, then have a beer around there before leaving the area.

Astoria, Queens

Western section of Queens, NY.

Huge area, covered by two train tracks. N/W on one, and E/M/R on another.

I explored areas around 36th Ave (N/W) Station, and Steinway St (E/M/R) station.

High density of very good bars and restaurants.

Photo Album

Gastroteca Astoria bar.

Mama’s Empanadas: small bites and great mango milk shake (batidos con leche).

Max Bratwurst Und bier

Copacabana: Brazilian grilled meats, sold by the weight for eating-in or take-out. Excellent sirloin steak, rice, beans, flan.

Astoria Seafood: Great seafood, but very slow and confusing self-service, and messy place. But great grilled/broiled seafood.

Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Greenpoint is in Brooklyn, New York.

It is the northwest section of Brooklyn. It is south of Long Island City, Queens.

I explored Manhattan Ave, around Nassua Ave and Greenpoint Ave stations on the G train.

Photo Album

Russ Pizza: crispy crust pizza, lot of cheese so with greasy goodness! Tomato garlic mozarella white pizza slice is great. Messy with eat with fingers, may have to resort to using a knife and fork – a very non-New York-pizza eating style, but necessary.

Little Italy pizza is also good.

Screamers Pizza: Vegan pizza is very popular too. For those who don’t the real cheese! Good pizza but nothing beats real cheese.

Xi’an Famous Foods: Chain restaurant, hand-ripped noodles. Cumin lamb noodles or burger are good choices.

Vivi Bubble Tea.

Other choices: Mexican food. Many bars. Frankel’s Deli for pastrami and corned beef.

The neighborhood is “Little Poland”. Many Polish shops and restaurants.

Rainbow Bagel: A curiosity, may be worth one vist? That is a bit futher down in East Williamsburg. Bus B43 or G or L train to Graham & Metropolitan Ave. The Bagel Store-Original Rainbow Bagel. Expensive, at $4 each (2018) while regular bagels are $1.25.

Montreal Summer 2017

C’est mon été (it’s my summer)
Vive 375 Montreal, et ses 375 printemps (Alive Montreal, and its 375 springs)
Five weeks that started on July 1. In addition to the usual festivals, it was also an anniversary year: Canada 150 and Montreal 375. Which meant even more festivals and events around the city. Nearly all of the events described below are free events, and very well organized.

Photos: Summer 2017  &  Videos: Summer 2017

Montreal Jazz Festival 2017 June 28 through July 7.
This is a huge event. Four stages where free live music is played. At Place des Festivals and 2 blocks around it. Great music, great setting, very well organized. Details here.

Just for Laughs, outdoor festival July 15 to 30.
A great fun festival with lot of interactive areas with board games, human foosball game, ambulatory street performers, and so on. And some good music events too. The final event was a great band, Kool and the Gang, but it was a major letdown since they started 40 minutes after the scheduled start time, wasted time on a opening act band (Jazz Festival organizers would not have allowed this!) and resetting the stage equipment. Messy! Other than this poorly executed “key” event, it was a fun festival.

Montreal Completement Cirque, outdoor festival from July 6 to 16. At various spots around Berri-UQAM metro. St-Denis street was filled with participatory games – including trampoline for kids. And various performers – street bands, stilts, shows, on that street. Very cool: two Aquamen from France, heads stuck in water-filled fish bowls with goldfish swimming around, walking on the street.

Nuits d’Afrique, outdoor festival from July 18 to 23. This was right next door to Just for Laughs, near Metro St Laurent. Great music, and also new, interesting, good food.

Osheaga Block Party at an highway underpass. I like Osheaga music, but have no desire to commit to a full day of hanging out in such densely crowded festivals (and I avoid the island Parc Jean-Drapeau since it can’t really move such crowds well). So this July 22 free block party event was just awesome! The Van-Horne Underpass near Metro Rosemont is actually a pretty large area, with well organized spaces. I saw two groups: 8-10pm DJ Premier & the Badder Band, and 6:45-8pm Killa-Jewel DJing. Jump-up and jump-down music, fun!

À nous la rue! (The streets are ours!)
Vive 375 Montreal Special Events
Two of these were spectacular! Color of Time was a Holi-inspired performance by artists from France. The air and ground on Ste-Catherine St around Berri-UQAM was filled with color powders which also made it to people’s faces and clothes!
Place des Anges was an aerial acrobatic show with feathers dropped from the sky and ejected up from the ground! Feathers everywhere video with cool music. The acrobatic portion went on for 45 minutes, then when all the acrobats were on ground, they pumped features from bins in the ground, filling the air with even more feathers. The music was absolutely fantastic, eerie and ethereal, and suited to the event. After that, the DJs started playing, which got everyone dancing while playing with the feathers!
My 7×35 Permafocus Binocular was very useful in seeing the details of the aerial acrobats who were 10+ stories high up in the air.

In addition to all the many free outdoor events, there were many indoor ticketed events too. I went to a couple of them:
Rêveurs Définitifs at St-Denis Theater. Apparitions, levitations, transformations, a mind-blowing magic show.
MozART Group show at Place des Arts, Theatre Jean-Duceppe. Four classical musicians playing Mozart (of course), and injecting humor in the music. And then they also played popular music from Abba to Beatles!
The Just for Laughs had day-of-show heavily discounted tickets for many of the shows going on during this festival.

Montréal Avudo, a spectacular show that pays tribute to the St. Lawrence River. Images and scenes projected on rippling water walls. The larger-than-life projections will come alive primarily on the water. Water jets from 30 or so fountains will create massive 30 X 11.5 meter tall screens of water. The projection screens also include 94 shipping containers, creating the world’s highest container tower at 11 stories tall. Booking free tickets was necessary for this show, sadly they sold-out online very quickly. But they had day of show tickets available starting at 7PM at the venue. This was standing room tickets only, but it was only a 30 minute event, so it was just fine.

Formula E Racing in downtown Montreal, Sat & Sun, July 29 & 30.
I only watched this for a few minutes, from outside the barriers at Rene Levesque around Rue Cartier. Electric cars Formula 1 racing. Crazy to see cars drive so fast on a city street! They also had a Formula E driver-less Roborace car doing the laps. Photos links has one photo that shows a pissed-off local resident – looks like most Montreal residents were not happy how this event paralyzed key downtown streets and residential neighborhoods for over three weeks.

La Balade de la Paix / An Open-Air Museum on Sherbrooke street from the McCord Museum to Museum of Fine Arts.
Art works along the street, and flags of the 13 provinces and territories of Canada and the world’s 200-odd countries flying over the street.

Cultural Events in Montreal. French-only site, but is good to visit to find all the events going around in the city, organized by the City of Montreal. Another such site created by the city: About Montreal. I was lucky to have stumbled on the À nous Montréal free magazine, which was French only, but I understood the program schedule pages, which was the key! Otherwise, I would have missed all these events. The great thing about these events was they they were held all across the city, so I got to visit parks that I’d never visited in my decades of visits here. Sadly, a bunch of these were cancelled (which I only found out after reaching the park) due to rain or threat of rain. And this summer there were too many such days in Montreal.
Two of the best music events: Bluebell Sisters (Blues, Swing, Doowop), Dawn Tyler Watson (Blues).

Montreal International Fireworks Festival is on every summer, Saturdays and some Wednesdays at 10PM. Large crowds visit here, even though it is a long walk from the Metro station Papineau and the event only lasts 30 minutes. And isn’t one fireworks show same as the other? No matter, it is still well-attended. Details here.
Unrelated, but of note is the Village au Pied-du-Courant which is in this area, a beach area built every summer. Good place for food, music, and watching the Montreal 375th Anniversary Jacques-Cartier bridge lights.

La Grande Tournée, 19 boroughs, 19 weekends. One such weekend: August 4th to 6th – Parc Ahuntsic, near Metro Henri-Bourassa. Whole day family events, workshops, food. Great park, just a handful of food trucks, but enough for the small crowds. This place also had a McCord Museum exhibit La ville suspendue with photos and stories of Montreal.

Nova Stella, with byline The art of being different together, as part of the Montreal First People’s Festival at Place des Festivals, Saturday Aug 5. Afternoon parade by the 65-troupe-strong Amitié Nuestroamericana. And then music at night – Sonido Pesao was great Latin Urban/Rap!

And of course, great food every day. In addition to my standard usual favorites, found two new cool food-items: great pastry Kouign Amann from a bakery near Metro Mont-Royal. And great sausage sandwiches and clam chowders and more at the new Marché public de Longueuil (this requires a car to get to). More info onthe Public Markets.

Photos: Summer 2017  &  Videos: Summer 2017

I also tried to learn ice-skating at the Atrium Le 1000 Made 10 visits, 3 of them with falls and one serious face-plant injury (lot of blood, but it all healed in just couple of days, so all good! Hats off to Atrium 1000 employees who quickly bandaged me up). Still can’t ice-skate well, but hey, having fun learning.

Weather was pleasant most of the days, though this summer there were more rainy days or thundershowers, more than the normal. Towards early August, it got cool at night (60°F and below) so hot afternoons combined with cool late evenings makes it confusing to dress correctly!
And don’t forget sunscreen, especially on face. My face got extra-tanned and I only found that out when I returned home and people told me. So, remember sunscreen every day on all uncovered skin. Sunset is after 8PM, so even if you skip afternoons, you need sunscreen.

And since it is not that all events or experiences were good, here are some that were just not worth the time or effort!.

In addition to all the events above that I attended, there was no way to attend all the cool events going on at the same time. Some such shows I could not attend: Haïti en folie, July 26-30 at Parc Lafontaine, Montréal. And the Rouge Event – circus at Jardins Gamelin, part of Montreal Completement Cirque. And other events that required full day tickets, which I’d no time for: Comiccon July 7-9, Otakuthon anime convention Aug 4-6, Osheaga music festival Aug 4-6.
I also wanted to, but had no time to visit the nearby public swimming pool which looked very uncrowded and very tempting on hot weekday afternoons: Baldwin Pool.

Finally, have to give huge credit to the City of Montreal, the STM Metro employees, on how well they handle the huge crowds for these key special events and keep people moving safely. It makes everything just so much nicer and stress-free. There will be extra buses run (#45 going north from Papineau), there will be more STM employees deployed at Berri-UQAM, Place des Arts and other Metro stations making sure crowds are controlled as they swarm the subway. All wonderful.

Not Worth It

So after decades of travel here for the good things, there are certainly experiences that are just not worth the time or the effort.
There are so many alternatives to the items listed below – from tourist-friendly but also gritty and unique streets such as Ste Catherine, St Laurent, St Denis, to nice parks even in far boroughs, and of course, to good food everywhere in the Greater Montreal region.
Some items below are good to visit once, just not worth going on repeat visits. Other items are not worth it even for one visit.

Places

  • Parc Jean-Drapeau – avoid for very popular events during rush periods. This Island can get very crowded, and the walks from the single metro station can be long and tiring on hot days or through crowds. There will be staircase overpasses over roads to climb too. Cars are totally worse of course, and parking can sometimes be filled up by the afternoon or earlier.
    Best to go here where there are no big events scheduled. Great park, fantastic public swimming pool, and the Expo 67 Biosphere is worth visiting once at least.
  • Old Montreal. This is definitely something to be done at least once, but that is enough. It has an antiseptic touristy feel with overpriced restaurants, all of which can be found anywhere in the world. Driving here is completely disastrous because of narrow streets and huge crowds in pedestrian crossings. On top of all this, there is no good public transportation here. Bus service is very limited, and the two closest Metro Stations (Champs-de-mar and Place-d’Armes) are long walks, made worse when there are detours or construction (which is quite often) and no good signs from points in Old Montreal to the Metro to guide newcomers. Having said all that, it is still worth visiting when there are fewer people, such as in daytime, to the Science Center or the Pointe-à-Callière Museum.
    Bus 715 runs during the day time. Does not run late at night, so it is not available for the New Year’s Eve events.

Events

  • Weekends du Monde – The 2017 event was one of the worst experiences ever. Normally Montreal has very good crowd control at all major events, this was a disaster for most of the people who visited around 5PM on Sunday July 23, 2017. After 20+ minutes of walking in the hot sun from the metro station, climbing on overpasses over roads, crossing the bridge, one arrived at a huge mass of people packed like sardines waiting to get into the event. Maybe around 100 meters long, 20 meters across, just waiting. And there was no information available – no official person around to explain what was going on. So many people were disgusted, and turned back, some of them warning others who were walking about the lineup. This newswire release is a complete joke and does not mention the problem at all.
    A good organization would have information about the wait to enter the event displayed at the Metro station. At the very least, they would have better control of the huge throng entering the place – have organizers posted to explain what is going on, maybe have some performers and vendors outside too so the those lined-up forget about the time being spent there. Worse, the throng of people crammed in the entrance felt very unsafe.

Eats

  • Charlie’s Shack Worst Clam Chowder in the world.
    Their byline is Perkins Cove, Maine but it is only “inspired” by that, and they are not from Maine in reality. They sell a bisque with one small clam and one small potato cube and call it a clam chowder. And overpriced, of course. Ugh! Photo of their food truck.
  • The Bouffons MTL food festival on Ste Catherine (corner Jeanne-Mance), next to Just for Laughs Festival not only had the horrible clam-chowder from Charlie’s Shack, but also uncooked paella rice (crunchy?!), and so on, much better to stick to regular Montreal restaurants, good ones are everywhere.
  • Food at Marché des Possibles – at rue St-Dominique (corner Bernard), July 28, 2017) was also no good for food – they just could not handle the crowds, there was a hour-long line for the 2-3 food tents! There was no need to line up – this area has fantastic restaurants, just walk a block! This event also has POP Montreal DJ music, that part was great! Another good thing: beer tent had very short lines.
  • First Fridays every month at the Olympic Park. This is borderline worth it – good food, 40-50 great food trucks, but the crowds are huge! Which meant at around 8PM rush hour, there were 25-50 people lined up at most of the trucks. Which meant 30-60 minute wait for food at each truck. This was on a rainy day, so I can’t imagine how much worse it must be on a nice day. And while the rain cleared out a number of people by 9PM, by then, some of the food trucks had run out of their key items! Still, there are some high-quality food vendors here, so if there is nothing else going on, may be worth paying a visit.

Public Markets

All public markets have grocery stands, fish market, cheeses, cooked sandwiches, fish, and other food.

Jean-Talon Market

The biggest one, so has the most vendors and the most variety. And the neighboring area is chock-full of good restaurants (such as Le Petit Alep).

Marché Jean-Talon is at 7070 Henri-Julien St, south of Jean-Talon St, 10 minutes walk from Jean-Talon Metro.
Jean-Talon Market bustles with activity in summer certainly and is open in winter too. It is truly a fantastic market – all fresh vegetables, fruits you need, as well as bakeries, food stalls (sandwiches, plates, crepes, fried fish, tacos, oyster bar, and so on). Worth the trip: fried calamari at Aqua Mare. Good cheese available – inside the market, as well as at La Fromagerie Hamel at 202 Jean-Talon St. East.

On your first day at Montreal, get down here, get yourself a supply of fruits, continue to replenish every few days. The effort is worth it – the prunes, the cherries, the oranges, are just so much better, sweeter, fresher than any fancy fruits available at standard grocery stores. Even the croissants at the bakery chain Première Moisson branch here are much better – soft interior, slightly crunchy crust, just fantastic.

Just outside the market is Marché des saveurs du Québec selling local products, at 280 Place du marché du nord, on a side street.

Atwater Market

Atwater Market is at 138 Atwater Ave, near the Lionel-Groulx Metro (Note: not near the Atwater metro!).

Good cheese shop – La Fromagerie Hamel is here too.

Longueuil Market

Marché public de Longueuil is at 4200 Chemin de la Savane, Longueuil, a 20-40 minute drive from Montreal, and not near any Metro station, though it is near a commuter rail station.

Best sausage sandwich shop is here! Meyer’s German Sausages has a large variety of sausages. They also sell grilled sandwiches. Perfect snap when you bite into the sausage, bread is just the right texture (not too soft, not too hard, just crusty enough). The owner indicated that the Currywurst is his best-seller – Indian influence on a German staple!
They also sold a Columbiana at Nuits d’Afrique 2017 in Montreal, which was a great sausage.

One of the best clam chowders is here too, at La Galerie de la Mer. They have a number of other fish dishes too.
The clam chowder is nice and thick, with potatoes cubed nice and small, and fresh crunchy celery pieces add a good crunch.

This is a new market, opened in 2014, so looks very nice. It is great seating areas, including big wooden-swing seats overlooking the St Hubert airport. Eat, and once in a while, you can see the small planes take-off and land.
Lot of greenery around in summer too.

My Photo Album of the Longueuil Market

Color of Time – Holi in July in Montreal

The Color of Time by Artonik, a holi inspired performance and parade, on Ste-Catherine near Berri-UQAM metro.
By Artonik (group from France), performing in Montreal as part of the à nous la rue and vive 375 (the street is ours and alive 375) celebrations.

“Rhythmic beats, hypnotic choreographies and colourful powders filling the air…” along with major audience participation.

2017 July 22 & 23, 4 PM
Parade started on Ste-Catherine St at Beaudry Metro, then paused on St-Timothe intersection for a performance, and then moved on to the main show on Saint-Catherine Street between Berri & Saint-Hubert.

Inspired by the Hindu celebration of Holi, it is a parade with music and dance for around 40 minutes, and then 20 minutes of intense blowout fun when the performers and the audience indulge in a shower of colorful powders!

4PM at Beaudry Metro, was hot! And crowded, so could not really see anything. But, just enjoy the music and walk along with the performers. They hung out around Rue Saint-Timothée for around 20 minutes of dancing and drawing with colors on the street.

Then around 4:40PM they reached the raised stage on Saint-Catherine Street between Berri & Saint-Hubert, across from Place Émilie-Gamelin. This is where the fun ramped up! Could see the performance, and hear the music too. And the colors really filled the air.
Event volunteers were handing out plastic sachets of colored powder to the spectators, and with so many kids and fun-loving adults, the air was filled with the colors.

Color of time pictures – July 22, 2017 on Ste Catherine, between Beaudry and Berri-UQAM.
Color of time – Videos: the finale, with colors filling the air
At the middle of the parade, dance performance while coloring the street.

The colors were all powder only, which was great, all of it will easily wash off. The street painting was done with edible colors, at least dogs eating it suggested that was so.

Color of Time à nous la rue program website.

Fireworks

Every year in the summer, Montreal has the International Fireworks Competition on the river.
Saturdays at 10PM, and some Wednesdays.

It seems like the whole of Montreal descends to Metro Papineau, with friends and family, to watch the fireworks.
It is a long walk, from 20 to 40 minutes, to the areas under the Jacques Cartier Bridge on the Montréal side of the St. Laurent river. Walk to the junction of Rue Notre-Dame and Ave de Lorimier, and other areas around here – all this is easy to find – just follow the crowds heading in that direction on firework evenings!
People stake out spots early. Families bring chairs, blankets, and lay them on grassy areas or even on the street itself.
The whole viewing area is huge, so even with so many people, there is never any crowding on the streets. The new Village au Pied-du-Courant beach area does get full, so if you want to get in there, may need to get 1-2 hours earlier.

Getting on the bridge itself requires even more walking – since the entrance is around Ave Papineau and Rue la Fontaine junction, so you have walk up northwards from Metro Papineau, and then walk back southwards up the bridge ramp to get on the bridge for a good view. Again, people come here early starting around 8:30PM! And all the good spots will be taken by 9:30PM or so – people will be lined up all along the edge of the bridge. But if you are OK with all the walking, it is fun to sit in the middle of the bridge roadway. The view here is different, in some ways better, but in other ways not, as compared to the Rue Notre-Dame or nearby streets.

There are around 8 nights over the summer when they have the fireworks show.
A great place to watch the fireworks is actually right next to Metro Papipeau. A 2 minute walk will bring you to corner of Ste Catherine and Ave de Lorimier. It is fantastic! Easy-in, Easy-out location.
If you have only 30 minutes, then that is the best choice.

If you have around 60-90 minutes, then follow the crowds from Metro Papineau, walking towards Ave de Lorimier, and then towards Rue Notre Dame. Find a place to sit, and have a picnic!

There are no restrooms or restaurants in the area. But now that the Village Pied-du-Courant is open (until midnight on fireworks nights, check their website), if you have 90+ minutes, then after 10:30PM, wait until the Village empties out when most of the fireworks watchers leave, allowing for more people to enter.
There you can find food trucks and bars selling alcohol, a DJ playing music, and restrooms too. And a great view of the river and the Jacques-Cartier bridge. The Village entrances are at end of Ave De Lorimier, or Rue Fullum, on Rue Notre-Dame.

Avoid bringing a car. All of the streets in that area will be closed, and there is no easy public parking in the area.

If you have 3 hours and are adventurous, try the Kayak tour and watch the fireworks from the northern tip of the Île-des-Soeurs (Nun’s Island)! Book at the Navi site. This specific group is quite popular, so tour may sell out in advance.

Here’s a Montreal Fireworks Fan site.
The official site is Parc Jean Drapeau International Fireworks which provides more details, including the info on the cost to view this from La Ronde (it is expensive, and not worth it for 30 minutes of fireworks. But it may be worth it if you spend the whole day at the amusement park.)

Photo Album (click on Info button for photo descriptions)
Videos (Montreal Summer 2017 Events)

Baldwin Park and Pool

Photos

One of the nicest parks in Montreal, just to the East of the Plateau in the De Lorimier neighborhood.
On Rue Fullum. Park is at Rue Marie-Anne, and the public pool is at Rue Rachel.
It is a small park (as compared to the more famous Parc La Fontaine), but it is very cozy with nice grass and a number of trees. Also less crowded, being off the tourist track.

The park is great, and even more cool is the public pool! Great to beat the heat in the summer.
At least in 2017, weekdays visits are free, and there is a small charge on the weekends.
Weekdays are not crowded at all, though weekends can be very crowded.