Off the beaten path: ♪ Montreal Jazz Fest ♪

We planned our trip to Montreal to coincide with the world’s largest Jazz Festival. It features all kinds of artists, big and small, and it is free to enter!

Read more about our 48 hours in Montreal


We didn’t know what to expect so we walked around enjoying the street performers and sampling various stages. And of course the food and drink in the area! We made sure (as always) that we tried only local beers, and (again, as always) loved them!


At the Heineken stage there was a rock and roll party. Israel Proulx band was playing Elvis, Jerry Lewis and so on. Despite being a relatively unknown band, the crowd loved them, as did we. The lead singer even climbed onto the piano during his act- all part of the fun spectacle!

The highlight of the night was Jamie Cullum. If you haven’t heard of him check him out- he’s a super talented jazz musician from the UK, complete with the dry sense of humour! He mixed some original jazz numbers with jazz covers of popular songs. We liked his rendition of Mike Posner’s ‘I took a pill in ibiza’ best of all.

 

And please don’t stop the music – which was an unexpected, but delightful inclusion in his repertoire.

Check out Jamie Cullum’s entire performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival 2016 (link)

If in Montreal around the time, we’d definitely recommend attending the Jazz festival. Even if most of the artists are unknown and unheard of, there is a good chance of stumbling upon someone who makes it completely worth the time!

48 hours in Montréal: explore and eat! 

While the Montréal Jazz festival was the main draw to visit the city, we found that it was a great place to visit, with a wide variety of fun things to do! Here are our top 10:

1. Walk around old town Montréal: Take a free walking tour– the guides are locals who know and love the city, and do a really good job! It is a great way to see the city and learn about some of its more obscure quirky stories.

The Englishman with the bulldog and French woman with the poodle at permanent odds with each other!
 Montréal’s own LOVE sign

 Botero has reached Montréal too!

2. Walk around the old port: While the city is not entirely in favour of the gentrification and renovation of the vieux port, it makes for a nice stroll by the water.


3. Watch a Cirque du Soleil show: For the uninitiated (like I was until this trip), Montréal is the birthplace of the concept of the Cirque and most shows originate here. We were lucky enough to watch Luzia as it premiered in Montréal before it reached the rest of the world. It was fantastic!


4. Hike up Mont Royal: The mountain that gives the city its name, makes for a relatively easy uphill climb (as if that exists!) and offers spectacular views of the city!


5. Drink orange Julep: Especially if it is a warm summer’s day!


6. Eat smoked meats at Schwartz: The long line might be off-putting, but it is totally worth the wait. The food is delicious!


7. Search for the best poutine: No trip in Canada is complete without a lot of poutine! While the taste is definitely a huge selling point, it can be eaten as any meal- we had poutine (on different days) as breakfast, lunch and dinner and apparently that wasn’t strange at all!

8. Surf the St.Lawrence River: Surfing in Montréal seems to be a hush-hush activity that not everyone knows or talks about, but once you know where to find them, the surfers are all definitely there, and pretty awesome to watch!

9 & 10. Attend the Jazz festival (and drink the local beer during it)! Read more about it in our post here.

Hidden labyrinths around San Francisco

Looking for something to do off the beaten path in the San Francisco Bay Area? If you don’t mind short hikes there are hidden labyrinths worth visiting in Oakland and San Francisco. Both are true labyrinths i.e. only one path to the center rather than a maze, which offers several choices. Read on!

Labyrinth at Lands End, San Francisco 

One of the best kept secrets in San Francisco is the Lands End hike. A mostly flat hike, you start from the Sutro Baths area in Golden Gate Park. It’s amazing that even though this place is so easily accessible from within city limits, not many people know about it.

Follow the coastal trail signs. Along this well marked, paved trail and you get great views of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge.

After following the trail for about an hour, mostly along the ocean, you will see stairs that take you closer to the ocean. If you don’t see signs for the Labyrinth, follow the crowd.

The labyrinth itself is man-made and can be slightly underwhelming. It has been destroyed a few times but people have collected the stones and reassembled it. Just for kicks, try to get to the middle of it. We did 🙂 The view of the ocean and bridge, especially around sunset is stunning and well worth the walk.

Labyrinth at Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, Oakland 

A short drive from downtown Oakland gives you access to many regional parks like Tilden (Berkeley) and the Sibley Volcanic Preserve. It is one of the East Bay Regional Park District’s oldest parks and is best known for the mysterious labyrinths that have appeared at the bottom of the quarry canyons.

Drive up to the parking lot and pick up a brochure/map. We took the Round Top Loop Trail which is a self guided trail with notes on the volcanic history of the reserve and of course, the labyrinth.

The trail isn’t very steep. After 2-3 miles you come to a view point where you can see the labyrinth below. You can take the detour along a narrow path to reach the labyrinths. It is called the Mazzariello labyrinth, named after the East Bay resident who created it in 1989.

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The labyrinth itself is easy, but there is a certain pleasure in discovering these hidden treasures!

2 days in Banff National Park-Day 1

Day 1

We went to Banff at the end of our Canadian trip. We flew into Calgary Airport and the drive to Banff is just over an hour. Since it is so easily accessible, there were a lot of people at the park. But it’s so huge and there’s so much to do that we were lucky to have planned some extra time to visit this area.

We stayed at the SameSun hostel which is right in Banff Village along the main street and close to all the restaurants and shopping.

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Our first impression of the town was that it was quite urban and developed yet felt like a small ski village. The views of Mt. Rundle and Sulphur Mountain were spectacular as we walked around.

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We walked along the Bow River to the Banff Springs Hotel looking for the Sulphur Mountain/Gondola trailhead. Check out the drama in the sky.

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We planned to hike Sulphur Mountain on the first day instead of taking the Gondola. We miscalculated where the trailhead was and instead of driving to it from the village actually landed up walking the 3 km. Not the most exciting walk but can be done. From the trailhead, it is 5.8 km to the summit of Sulphur Mountain which takes about 2 hours on average. There are a lot of switchbacks and its a steep ascent, but the views make up for it. Great views of Banff town, Bow river and the valley keep it exciting for most of the climb.

Of course we were all smiles once we completed the hike and got to the top. The views were spectacular. There is a great 360 degree view of Banff town and the mountains nestling the village.

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We also got lucky to see two rams locking horns (literally) as we waited for the gondola to get back down to Banff village

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The beauty of being so high up north is the long days and we ended our long day with dinner at one of the well known terraces in Banff. This place was a tip from our server in the morning and we had a lot to thank her. Great views from the Rose and Crown terrace and they had half off on bottles of wine (yes!) and live music later in the night.

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