Summer Hotspot: Montreal, Quebec

Hungry for some culture this summer? Skip the jet lag, high exchange rates and long museum lines in Europe for one of North America’s most cosmopolitan and best warm-weather destinations: Montreal.

The charms that contribute to Montreal’s growing cultural reputation are already evident year-round, ranging from its cosmopolitan European-style cafes, a top-notch range of award-winning restaurants and a lively music scene. But summer is truly when Montreal comes out to shine, a time when May-August average temperatures hover in the 70’s and international-quality music festivals like MUTEK and Jazzfest draw partiers from around the globe. Design-conscious bargain hunters will find plenty to like in Montreal too. The city was named a UNESCO City of Design in 2006, and bursts at the seams with design-centric accommodations like Hotel Gault and fashion boutiques in the newly resurgent Old Montreal.

Those looking to add in a dose of the great outdoors won’t be disappointed either. With Montreal’s wildly successful Bixi bike-sharing program now in place at more than 5,000 locations city-wide, it’s easier than ever to pedal out for an exploration on the city’s 300+ miles of bike lanes and trails. For a more casual outdoor experience, stop by Montreal’s sprawling Mount Royal Park with a picnic lunch and just enjoy the warm weather.

Best of all, Montreal is still a relative bargain for budget-seekers. Compared to the Euro (currently $1.30:1), the Canadian Dollar still trades at a more wallet-friendly $1:1. Meaning you can spend those extra travel savings on a few more bottles of Quebec’s delicious La Fin du Monde Belgian-style brew, produced in nearby Chambly, Quebec.

[flickr image via madabandon]

Haiti: the rocky road to recovery

HaitiHaiti was hit by a massive earthquake a little over two years ago, flattening homes, school buildings, and businesses; pretty much transforming the entire city of Port Au Prince into rubble. Relief efforts came and continue by non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) as nearly $5 billion in aid was promised and is being spent. But while there are ongoing success stories, half a million people are still living in camps they took refuge in right after the earthquake and they are not happy about it.

“The humanitarian response was so appreciated that few could have predicted two years later the long and deep thread of anger toward NGOs that now runs through Haitian society,” wrote Marjorie Valbrun, a Haitian-American journalist in the Sacramento Bee.

It was the topic of special television broadcasts. Cruise lines delivered supplies. Aid poured in. But was the worst natural disaster in the history of the Western Hemisphere, killing 316,000 people, and much work remains to be done.

Haiti’s crippling bureaucracy alone makes rebuilding a slow process and cause for anger by displaced Haitians but even foreign aid workers are easy targets for resentment.

“Aid workers live in nice houses, ride in air-conditioned SUVs and frequent trendy nightclubs while Haitians live in tents or shacks.” says Barbara Shelly who visited Haiti with a church group last summer and witnessed some of the hostility.

Haitian perception is that aid money is making others rich while they suffer. There is good reason to believe they may be right. Shelly’s research revealed that U.S. for-profit companies received more than 80 percent of the Haiti contracts awarded and less than 3 percent of the funds went to Haitian companies.

“Even before the quake, Haitians had a healthy suspicion of foreigners coming in “to help” or to “keep the peace,” which usually meant imposing military rule,” said Shelly.

On the success-story side, there have been some good, solid efforts to aid Haiti too recently.

Last weekend, a gala dinner organized by Cinema for Peace to benefit Haiti, tapped long-time humanitarian Sean Penn, founder of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization and newly-appointed ambassador at large of Haiti along with Indy band Arcade Fire and others to raise more money.

Arcade Fire, led by Win Butler and his Haitian wife, Régine Chassagne, have been donating a few dollars from every concert ticket to Haitian relief efforts reports the New York Times.

“We’re just a stupid indie rock band from Montreal, and just from that initiative, we’ve been able to raise millions of dollars,” Butler said. “It’s really a mistake to think of Haiti as a place where an earthquake happened to it.”

“The earthquake really revealed what was happening there,”said Butler …which pretty much nails it.

Haiti was in trouble before the earthquake. But ongoing efforts by long-time supporters of Haiti seem to be making a difference and look to be a key factor in long-term recovery.

  • The American Red Cross is helping people rebuild their homes and lives and is improving communities with health, water and sanitation projects.
  • World Vision is helping the country respond to new emergencies including hurricanes and the cholera outbreak.
  • Royal Caribbean continues to employ Haitian workers at it’s private destination of Labadee in Haiti, has built a school for children and continues to bring supplies when ships come calling.

That’s three organizations making a difference but probably not the answer for those who choose to give. At that gala dinner, Arcade Fire’s Butler called on the crowd to collaborate in offering help.

“Everyone just talk to each other,” he said, “and try to magnify each others’ efforts.”

That might very well be a key to Haiti’s long-term recovery. It sure can’t hurt.


Volunteer to Teach English in Haiti

Flickr photo by newbeatphoto

ACL: know before you go

The Austin City Limits Music Festival, usually referred to as ACL, is coming up soon. And really, Austin deserves some semblance of fun after this horrendous fire-infused, rain-free, 100+-degrees-for-way-too-many-days-in-a-row summer. After attending ACL last year just a few days after I’d arrived to Austin from New York City and successfully having a blast, I decided to get tickets for this year’s festival, as well. Acts taking the stage at ACL 2011 include Stevie Wonder, Kanye West, Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Alison Krauss, Nas, Cee Lo, Bright Eyes, TV On The Radio, Death From Above 1979, and, of course, just like every other festival out there, many more.

So why does this festival matter to traveling folks? Well, because over 70,000 people attend the festival every day. And they’re not all Austinites. They travel from all over the globe to be a part of this festival. Indeed, ACL is a travel destination for many. And with that, I present you, your handy Know Before You Go list for ACL.

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  • Austin City Limits. Austin City Limits Music Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, September 16-18. The festival takes place annually in Zilker Park, Austin, Texas.
  • Tickets. All 3-day tickets are now sold out. And, unfortunately, day passes for Friday and Saturday are sold out. But wait! You can still attend. On Sunday. You can hurry and grab your Sunday pass and still catch acts like Arcade Fire, Social Distorion, Death From Above 1979, Broken Social Scene, The Walkmen, and more.
  • Food. The food at ACL is phenomenal, especially when you consider that this is a festival and festivals (until the recent warmly welcomed changing atmosphere of festivals) usually sell hot dogs, popcorn, and ice cream. Austin has a diverse food scene and many of the restauranteurs make their mark in the ACL Food Court. Some of my favorites are Tiff’s Treats, P. Terry’s, Amy’s Ice Cream, and The Salt Lick, but check out this link for a full list of food vendors.
  • Art. ACL boasts a pretty decent Art Market within the festival grounds. Check out this link for the full list of artists.
  • Alcohol. You’re not allowed to bring in alcohol. If you want to drink, you’re going to have to drink what they’re selling inside.
  • Pets. I’m disappointed too, but no, you may not bring your pets to ACL.
  • Re-Entry. Here’s how it works: You exchange your 3-day ticket for a wristband. You need to wear your wristband to enter the festival. As long as you’re wearing your wristband, you can come and go as you please. Unfortunately, if you only have a single day ticket, you won’t receive a wristband and, therefore, you won’t be allowed re-entry.
  • Transportation. If you’re looking to not drive to and from ACL, there are, of course, other options. ACL (and Austin, in general) is bike friendly. There are not only bike racks at each entrance of the festival, but there is also a bike shop at each entrance of the festival. If you need parts or repair, you can stop by Mellow Johnny’s Bike Station. If you’re within walking distance, walk! It’s not the fasted mode of transportation, but it’s certainly good for the body and mind. You can also ride the free shuttle from Republic Square (4th & Guadalupe) to ACL. The shuttles begin at 10am and their last round is at 11pm. Taxis are another good option and they’ll be around for the flagging.
  • Parking. There is absolutely no parking available on the grounds of the festival. None. So here is what you do if you’re driving. Park at One Texas Center (here’s a map). The parking there is free after 5pm on Friday, September 16th and $10 on Saturday the 17th and Sunday the 18th. It’s a pretty easy walk over to the festival from the garage. You can also park in town. We found reliable spots on West 6th last year and walked from there.
  • Activities. Photo Booths, car giveaways, and filtered water fill-ups are a few of the few things non-music ACL has going on. That’s right. I said ‘a few of the few’ for a reason: there’s not much non-music stuff going on at ACL, especially not compared to festivals like Bonnaroo.

ADVICE: ACL is crowded, but it’s fun. But keep the crowded thing in mind. Plan accordingly. If you have anxiety and think you may need to bring your medication, I suggest you do. It’s also going to be hot. HOT. Very hot. Prepare for the heat and sun in every way you know how. I saw a girl passed out cold last year from what I bet was drug or alcohol related, but the heat certainly didn’t help. Don’t let that be you this year. Prepare.

THINGS TO BRING & NOT TO BRING: The powers that be behind the curtains of ACL have put together a helpful list of things you can bring and things you cannot bring right here.

THINGS PROVIDED: Most of the things you need are within ACL… food, drinks, water fill-ups, medics, etc. But check the ACL website to make sure you have a comprehensive understanding of the festival before you arrive.

Welcome to Austin

Bonnaroo 2011: why you should go


Bonnaroo 2011
is bound to be fun. I say this with confidence because I packed a car (and a cooler) and pitched my(embarrassingly huge, but purchased as a gift by my mother) tent at Bonnaroo last year. I had scored some V.I.P. passes to the festival last minute and decided, without much hesitation, that it was about time I experienced a camping music festival for myself. As soon as I rolled into the parking/camping lot for the festival, I knew I’d made the right decision.

My fiance and I pulled into the muddy lot and put our borrowed car in park. We pulled out said giant tent and began to piece together the puzzle that putting it together wound up to be. We did this with PBRs in hand and serendipitously, it seemed, everyone around us was doing the same thing: wrestling with tent instructions and alternating stakes with beer-filled aluminum cans. The sun was setting in that neon pink and orange light, the kind of colors that consistently paint the sky on the best summer nights. Our neighbors were also from Brooklyn, and also really really excited to be hanging out beyond the Tri-State borders for a few days.

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We entered the festival last year just in time to catch The Temper Trap’s show. We’d never heard of them before, but just a song into their set we found ourselves asking people around us, “Who are these guys?”, knowing that it didn’t actually matter who they were–the experience of being at this festival was already speaking for itself, above and beyond the name or online merch. store url for any specific band.

We traveled all over in 2010. From New Orleans to Grenada, Costa Rica to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we certainly didn’t stay in one place for very long. And yet when all was said and done, those four days we stayed in that one place, Bonnaroo, will never be forgotten.

Although general admission tickets are now sold out for the upcoming Bonnaroo 2011, V.I.P. tickets are still available. And after having had V.I.P. tickets myself, all I can say is this: you’ll be showered and not walking miles each morning to get into the heart of the festival. The 4-day party takes place in the small town of Manchester, Tennessee and the dates this year are June 9-12.

Not sure if you want to invest in the sonic adventure yet? Well, here are some highlights that just might remedy your uncertainty.

  • Silent Disco. Everyone’s wearing wireless headphones, but dancin’ to the same song. From the outside looking in, everyone’s shakin’ their thang in utter silence. Inside? It’s a party.
  • Planet Earth. Bonnaroo is paving the path for eco-friendly festivals. Local food, composting, free water… the Bonnaroo green initiatives know no limit.
  • Yoga. Imagine hundreds (or thousands depending on how many people can rise and shine in time) doing sun salutes in unison as the Bonnaroo day breaks. It’s truly a sight to behold.
  • Artists’ Market. I was impressed with the wide expanse of legitimate artist booths at Bonnaroo last year. More handmade local goods, less made in China duplicates. That’s the idea and Bonnaroo holds to it. My handmade purse I purchased last year is regularly referred to as the ‘Bonnaroo Bag’ at home.
  • Bonnaroo Cinema & Comedy. If you need a break from all of the music listening, good-food eating, and fine-beer drinking, you can always chill out at Bonnaroo Cinema or Comedy tents to change up the kinds of shows you’re seeing.
  • Good vibes, anyone? Never before have I entered a certain community and felt so immediately welcomed and loved. There was something in the air at Bonnaroo last year, some kind of love and peace cocktail, if you ask me. And this, above everything else, is what will bring me back this year if I can make it.
  • Travel. Few people actually live in Manchester, Tennessee. Because of this, Bonnaroo is a time for travel for most attendees. It’s a time to pack the bags and file into cars, trains, buses, and plains and get there, one way or another. Talk to anyone who has traveled to Bonnaroo and they’ll back me up when I say: Bonnaroo is as much about getting there as anything else.
  • The MUSIC. Last, but of course not least, Bonnaroo is about the music. Some artists highlighting this year’s roster for me: Robert Plant & Band of Joy, Neil Young, Arcade Fire, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Mumford & Sons, Primus, Florence + the Machine, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Explosions in the Sky, Gogol Bordello, Beirut, Ratatat, Atmosphere, Portugal. The Man, Band of Skulls, Man Man, Jessica Lea Mayfield, The Black Keys, and, you guessed it, many many more.

For more information on Bonnaroo, check out their website.

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival

Arcade Fire video uses Google Maps to personalize ‘We Used to Wait’

Arcade Fire VideoArcade Fire has taken the music video genre to a brand new level with their latest achievement: an interactive video/film by Chris Milk, entitled The Wilderness Downtown featuring “We Used to Wait.” This Arcade Fire video also features something you might not have expectd: the street where you grew up.

Milk, Arcade Fire and Google have teamed up to create something far more personal than say, Elf Yourself. By prompting you to enter the address of the house where you grew up, they are able to generate a music video which takes place on your street and features shots of your own house (if it’s still standing there — mine’s had a third garage added, I noticed).

We love this. We think it could do without all the random windows popping up, but understand the utility of that, as well. The song is perfect for a stroll down Memory Lane and the concept uses Google Maps in a way we had never imagined. For fun, why not enter in the address of a hotel where you’ve stayed and watch the video as it takes place somewhere across the world?

To experience this awesome internet collaboration, which debuted at the end of the summer but seems somehow more poignant around the holidays, visit TheWildernessDowntown.com. The site is best viewed with Google Chrome.

[Photo via TheWildernessDowntown.com.]