Category Archives: Travel

Banff Sunshine – Skiing

Sunshine Village is huge! It has 3 mountains: Mount Standish, Lookout Mountain, and Goat’s Eye Mountain.
As an intermediate skier, I only skied the Green and Blue slopes.
2019-Mar was very clear so could see things clearly and see far – the mountain did not seem that big back in 2017-Feb when it was cloudy with no sunshine.
In 2019-Mar the immensity of the mountains felt awesome and a bit terrifying when riding the lifts and when standing on top of Lookout mountain. The snow goes on and on and there are no trees to break the view at the top! It looks scary and I felt a bit queasy riding up the chairlifts and standing at the top of a ski trail. And the wind was strong (they did close down the Great Divide chairlift later that day), so felt even scarier. It was also painful what with the blowing snow hitting the face like thousands of tiny pin pricks!
Even with so much wind blowing the snow around, which looked like a thin layer of fast moving cloud on the snow, the ski trail was not a solid ice block (as it would have been on East Coast US ski areas), it still had sufficient snow to ski on.

Very nice skiing and no lift lines! This is a good place to go skiing.

Skied here in 2017-February and 2019-March.
This is the 2019-March ski report.

Back in 2017-Feb Banff was very cold. -30C in the morning.
2019-Mar was much warmer. -15C one morning and then quickly warmed up to 0C.
On the slopes it warmed up to -5C by the afternoon, so very nice ski conditions (except for the very strong wind).
Even with the cold in 2017-Feb, I did ski all three mountains.
In 2019-Mar I did not go to Goat’s Eye.

Car parking is at Sunshine Base area. Then take a 20 minute 4.6km gondola ride to Sunshine Village ski area.
In the morning, best to go to the last stop on Gondola to get to the Mt Standish chairlift.

There are lockers at the base area. Use this if storing stuff that is not needed while skiing. There are racks to keep stuff at the Sunshine village base area, but this means you may have to take gondola back instead of skiing back to the base area. So only take things on gondola that you will consume or easily carry back while skiing back.

The Green trails are generally easy, though they can be steep at multiple places. There is also a narrow steep area where Creek Run meets Prune Pickers Pass, with off-limits steep slide just next to the trail.
The big problem with a bunch of Green trails here is that there is one part when the slope goes up so have to walk up a bit to get back to skiing downhill! Very tiring!
The Blue trails are better in that regard.
Avoid the Wawa chairlift unless you can ski Black marked trails because it requires climbing up from Wawa base area to the other chairlifts as well as to the lodge.
A risk on the Blues and Blacks is that moguls are not marked. And there may be bunched up snow on ungroomed Blue trails too.
Some Black trails are only slightly more harder than the Blues, as far I can tell from looking at it from the chairlifts.

2017 Feb Banff Sunshine Ski Mountain

Sunshine Village top of trail video:

Apart from skiing, it is well worth visiting Johnston Canyon for the Icewalk. It is icy and slippery so shoe ice cleats are highly recommended and essential if going to the upper falls area.
It is a 2-3 hour hike.
There are many hikes around Canmore area too.
Lake Louise has a free ice skating area on it, and skates can be rented at the adjacent Lake Louise hotel.
There is also hiking on and around Lake Louise.

Johnston Canyon Icewalk. Ice climbers viewed from upper falls.
Johnston Canyon Icewalk, ice on face too. 2017-Feb

Plenty of good food in Banff and Canmore, with many options. Lake Louise is very small so not much to do post-skiing or hiking.
When roads are cleared of snow, Sunshine Village is 35 minutes by car from Canmore and 20 minutes from Canmore. There are bus shuttles from Banff to Sunshine Village (and Norquay and Lake Louise ski mountains).
Banff National Park Pass is required and can be purchased in advance or at the toll both just before Route 1 enters Banff.
Ski rentals are good and easy even for walk-in rentals at Ultimate Sports on Banff Ave in Banff. In Canmore, reservations in advance are required at the couple of shops that I checked.

Crepes to Comiccom – 2018

Found a great crepe place! Had a favorite in the past that closed down, now finally found a great crepe place again.

Spanel Crêperie, great crepes, breakfast and lunch. 1960 Notre-Dame St W, Montreal. A nice long walk from the metro station Lionel-Groulx. Walk on Notre-Dame to see a bunch of other great restaurants.

And many other things in Montreal, always a good time to be  had! Christmas parade, old cafe, new cafe (Iranian), mini ComicCom, Ska Music Festival, street art animation. Japanese Izakaya – Imadake – Miso marinated grilled cod yummy with rice!

Many photos here, including description of each photo:

Montreal 2018-Nov / Google Photos

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