Family: Both sides, all the time

We have been back in the States for a few weeks and it’s been a very family time. You already know that we spent a week in Florida, but from there we flew to Baltimore for our granddaughter’s birthday and Mother’s Day.

It’s hard to beat having your 3-year-old granddaughter come running to you so you can save her from Grandpa Monster. Luckily, Nana bought a bubble lawnmower so Hannah could run over Grandpa Monster on her own (Grandpa, lie down so I can run you over).

Grandpa Monster wears birthday balloons.

We had family dinners, went out with extended family (hi Karl and Helen) and crammed in as much togetherness as possible while working. We’re not used to being around a lot of people anymore, so there’s always a bit of an adjustment when we have to consider other humans in our plans (actually it is kind of annoying), but we were really looking forward to seeing everyone (especially our granddaughter, who is the cutest person on Earth).

When we head to the States, we are reminded that we are a little snobby when it comes to food. The suburbs of Baltimore just don’t do it for us in that category, but we did find a great dinner spot called the White Oak Tavern where we could accommodate everyone’s dietary restrictions and they would take a large party who called on Tuesday for a Wednesday reservation. One of our culture shocks when we come home is the fact that dinner always feels rushed. The waiter brings the check while asking if you want dessert. We did not experience that this time, yay!

On Friday, we hopped in the car and headed for Pittsburgh, where Steven’s nephew was getting married. Big family reunion! We only had one major problem during the trip and that came from Judie’s sister from another mister, Tracey. The woman ordered a blueberry bagel with strawberry cream cheese!?!?!?! What? Get a pastry, I say. (Sue and I were discussing the appropriate penalty for such a travesty. I voted to have Tracey hung drawn and quartered. Sue suggested that the family shun Tracey until she repents and begs forgiveness from the Bagel Gods.)

Saturday afternoon we went to lunch at Church Brew Works. It comes by the name honestly as it is a deconsecrated church that still looks exactly like a church, except for the brewing paraphernalia. The food was good, the company better (I will take my IPA with a shot of heresy on the side).

Everybody looked fabulous for the wedding. The ceremony was touching and personal and we all had a blast. Hannah was the life of the party. She was the first one on the dance floor and we all joined in. I’ll say this: Steven’s family definitely knows how to have fun and Steven did yeoman’s duty by taking his aunt and uncle back to the hotel early since they were exhausted. The family can be a lot (and I mean that in a good way). We all had brunch together Sunday morning and then disbursed back to our corners.

Steven headed to Austin for work and I came to Chicago to see my family. At first, I was remembering all the great things about Chicago (food, friends, family), but yesterday, it got cold and tonight, my brother, nephew and I are going to the Cubs-Mets game. Why do the Mets always play the Cubs in May? It’s freezing (Because everyone knows that Mets fans are in league with the devil, so they don’t mind the cold! — said the Yankees fan who whines when they don’t win every game). Watching baseball while shivering will cure me of my Chicago wistfulness.

Update, since we didn’t post this yesterday: That was the best game! Mets win 10-1. So it was cold, who cares? The highlight was watching Daniel Vogelbach chug around the bases — oh, and seeing my Jakey.

News, views and booze

Plus, Cinco de Mayo in Mexico

The news is we’re officially Florida residents and we’re lining up ballots for the next election. Vote early and often in these scary states! (That’s the view in case you were wondering). We arrived Saturday evening, but the U.S. gave me some tummy trouble, so sorry for the delay. Guess I should have bought bottled water.

Florida is, as Steven put it, a soft landing because so many people speak Spanish. Our Uber driver from the airport was Dominican and he said Dominican Spanish is like singing a song. So poetic. Then, I said “con permiso” at the Target the other day and an employee spoke back to me in Spanish with a grin on his face. Nice. At the DMV, where we learned that this country really is no better than any others, the entire computer system for the state was down and there didn’t seem to be any method for dealing with it. We waited almost five hours as the computers went up and down and slow and fast (including 45 minutes after we were processed but then couldn’t pay) before I finally got my Florida serial-killer photo license. Steven apparently is a danger to Florida society so he got a temp and should get his in the mail after a background check. After all, he is the scary one of us.

We are enjoying our time with Nana and looking forward to seeing the rest of the family — especially our perfect granddaughter, who turns 3 next week.

Meanwhile, back in Mexico …

Needlework and mezcal? Seems like a dangerous combo to me.

I was very sad to go because we really loved Mexico City. It was the first place we’ve stayed for as long as we did (3 months) so we were starting to establish routine, getting to know the workers in the mercado and having people to smile and talk to at the gym. Plus, it’s just a great city with excellent food.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that we had a list of places we hadn’t eaten yet and checked a few off the list (see the food and drink porn below). We went to the restaurant on the corner, which seemed a bit upsale and touristy, but was always crowded. Can’t go wrong with breakfast enchiladas!

My librarian friend, Perla, had recommended a tamale place down the block from the library and we finally went there. They had sweet as well as savory tamales. Guess what? The sweet tamales were blintzes in masa! Can’t go wrong with pineapple or apple and cheese tamalinitzes.

We tried to go to a vegan taco place that has pink tortillas, but we were thwarted. Many restaurants don’t open until late afternoon and all seem to close by 11ish.

We were supposed to go out for one last fancy meal with Steven’s harem of Steph, Teresa, Vanessa y yo, pero … Steph works too hard and was too tired. Steph and Teresa left for a two-month stint in the U.S. on Tuesday, so we didn’t get to see them again. We’ll have to wait for their wedding in September.

At the end of our jaunts, we go through the fridge and eat anything we can. I really hate wasting food. So that’s what we did. On Thursday, we went to Guardians of the Galaxy Parte 3, which we liked, although we are apparently not discerning Marvel fans because the critics panned it. Palmitas for dinner! The movie was in English with Spanish subtitles and, to our relief, did not include an intermission an hour into the film as is the custom in Turkey.

We decided to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in grand fashion — by going to see Los Diablos Rojos otra vez. Yes, of course, Cinco de Mayo is not a holiday in Mexico. Maybe it’s a small one in Puebla, where the battle took place, but the holiday that the Diablos were celebrating was May the Fourth. Seriously. The mascots were dressed in Star Wars gear and had a saber fight between innings. We were in the front row and I talked a bit with the equipment manager for the opposing team, the Generales de Durango.

Steven and I had tried to get tree food again, but we didn’t know how late it opened. In the afternoon, the spot is taken by a different fonda and alas, at 5:30 there was no sign of our tree food. We then headed over to La Casa de Toño, but there was a line, so we decided to just eat at the ballpark, as one should anyway.

We were in luck because although it seemed like my only choice would be Pizza Hut (YUCK), at our seats the vendors were selling vegetarian (and non-veggie) machetes. We often find ourselves in situations where we don’t know the system and this was no exception. We didn’t realize that we would get TWO machetes per box. That’s a lotta taco!

The game started an hour after the appointed ticket time, but it was because of a “gran sorpresa!” or a three-song performance by Rafa Pabön. We were beginning to wonder if there was some unwritten rule about the ticket time being an hour before actual game time. The game itself was a blast (Vamos Diablos!). They won 8-5. We estimate the play is about Triple A level. Let’s face it, if the pitchers could throw consistently and consistently above 90 mph, they’d be in the MLB. There are lots of MLB washouts/retirees on the rosters, as well (including the ageless Fernando Rodney!). The league has a pitch clock, but it’s only active when there’s no one on base.

Our Schedule

For any of our Chicago friends who read this: We will be there May 21 (for me) or May 25 (for Steven) through the end of June so line up to get your spot on our calendar! We are really looking forward to seeing everyone. Also, if you know anyone who wants to practice their Spanish or speaks Spanish and wants to learn English, pass them along to me. I’m afraid I will lose everything I gained.

If you’re interested …

Here’s a piece I wrote on pisco.

A Week of Lasts

My week of lasts started Friday, with my last yoga class with the amazing Valentina, who has almost gotten me doing headstands. No es adios, es hasta luego, she said, and while I have said that before, it’s not that easy to keep in touch with all the wonderful people who have touched our lives.

Saturday, we did our last CDMX death march, but it was a short one of only about 10 miles. Our goal was a bookstore/cafe that has a pendulum hanging from the ceiling called Cafebrería. Unfortunately, the pendulum had been tied off, its bob hanging ineffectually from a banister so as not to smack the band which was setting up on the stage formerly known as the pendulum’s trajectory. We had a limonada and headed off to meet Steph and Teresa. We had planned a picnic in Bosque de Chapultepec, but they were running late, so we recalibrated and decided to meet them for dinner. Instead, we walked to the park ourselves.

Along the way, we passed through Parque Lincoln so named because it features a statue of guess who? Yes, a gift from lost Estados Unidos to Mexico, because Mexico really wanted a statue of Lincoln? I don’t know. I asked my favorite Mexican, Steph, and she said, “Maybe because then we’d be embarrassed to refuse it?” OK, I looked this up and apparently, Lincoln didn’t think it was a great idea for us to annex Texas in 1846, which Mexico still considered one of their states. Here’s what the Constitution Center says about the Mexican-American War. I think time has proven Lincoln correct, but this is a purely modern political feeling. Chapultepec park is divided by a huge highway and we decided to explore the part we had not seen before. It was much quieter (the museums and castle are in the other part), but unfortunately, there always wasn’t any food. What’s a death march without an exploratory detour? Not much in our book.

We were pretty hungry by then, so we headed for a sure thing: The touristy area outside Chapultepec Castle. There are cafes with tables and tons of booths selling snacks and souvenirs. Sitting down seemed like a good plan, but our waiter was less than attentive (we had to ask three times for our drinks). No fork? OK. Seems like they had two forks and two knives and were washing them as they went along. My food arrived way before Steven’s (which didn’t prevent him from finishing before me) and it was all edible. We were so hungry, quality was not our priority.

Suitably refreshed, we walked back to our place to chill before dinner. Adios Bosque de Chapultepec for now.

We had tried to go to Mercado Independencia (warning: Insta link) last weekend, but it closes at 11 p.m. Mexico City is weird. It doesn’t get started early and it doesn’t seem to stay opened late. People are on the streets, but restaurants and bars seem to get shuttered, especially around El Centro. Our neighborhood is a bit better, but not much. Anyway, the mercado is a fancy food court with a bunch of restaurants. Representatives from each one bring you menus and when you know where you want to order from, you hold up the menu and a waiter comes by.

All the food was delicious. Steven had something called a machete, see above, which is a very long taco with three different fillings, but the place was loud, so we retreated. We wanted to go to a rooftop bar and look over the city, but this was the second Saturday that they were having a private event, so we sat at a bar on the street and had a beer. We are going to miss Teresa and Steph, but will see them in September for their wedding!

We hopped in an Uber on the way home and as per usual taxis and Ubers don’t have to obey the red lights, especially after 11 p.m (our Uber on the way to the Mercado ignored the closed street sign too – he just went around the barrier and carried on). We don’t mind at all since it gets us home faster. I’ve seen it done in front of the police, so I think it’s just an unwritten rule. Drivers have to earn a living too.

Friday night, we went out for delicious Italian food at Las Musas de PapáSibarita (warning, another Insta link). To finish off our meal – I had lentil soup and linguini putanesca and Steven had gnocchi with pesto and pizza – we had liquore de basilico, an Italian basil liqueur (plus a torte of chocolatey goodness). Several of the best restaurants we have been to are right around the corner from us. We really got lucky with location this time. We’re in a convenient neighborhood that’s at the edge of gringoland, so actual Mexican people still live and work here, but it offers all the conveniences we love: mercado, supermarket, street food, restaurants, Metro access, safety. I’m sure it’s expensive for people making pesos, unless their making a lot of them.

Speaking of great food, Thursday we ate tree food. Well, we call it tree food because the stand is next to a giant tree and people stand around eating. We kept passing it and saying, “We should try the tree food; it’s always crowded.” Well, we in now-or-never territory, so we finally made it over there. Wow! That was some good food. Steven had tacos and a burrito al pastores and I (surprise) had veggie tacos. Here, veggie does not mean cheese and beans. It’s typically nopales, mushrooms and/or flor de calabaza (zucchini flower). All the street food stands here have several different salsas, limes and sometimes onions and other fixings you add yourself. You order, they give you the food, you eat, and when you’re done, you tell the guy what you ate and he totals it up. The honor system. Weird.

We’re a bit tired today (Sunday), so we had a leisurely coffee and pastry at the cafe down the block and then when we got restless (Yankees were losing badly again) so we took a nice stroll through the park like the old people that we are. We also spent some time discussing our evenings for the upcoming week. There’s still plenty of good food to be eaten. I am spoiled and don’t think I’ll be eating any U.S. Mexican food for some time unless no one in the place speaks English.

One thing I will not miss is the need to soak all your produce in antibacterial liquid before you eat it. It’s become habit and it’s really not a big deal, We had run out because I accidentally did not buy the prewashed lettuce. I’m sorry, but washing and drying lettuce is a real pain without a salad spinner. I always thought those were a waste of space but I have changed my tune. So, back to the supermercado we went.

Penultimate weekend in CDMX

We have reached point where we are panicking that we will miss something, mostly either some food or a cultural site. We started the weekend off on Friday night by re-visiting La Casa De Toño, a fast food place. We had tentative plans to see our friends, Stephanie, Teresa & Vanessa (henceforth to be referred to as the tres amigas), but they fell through due to work commitments. Stephanie & Vanessa are both accountants, so quarter end can be a busy time for them. Anyway, left to our own devices, Sue and I opted for an easy, fast meal.

Saturday, Sue and I decided to make it a full day adventure. We rode bikes to El Centro and headed to a restaurant called El Cardenal. It is a breakfast place that is in a very ornate building. It is one of the must does/sees in Mexico City. The food was fine, the building is nice, but in the end it wasn’t anything really special. Just something to tick off the list.

After breakfast, we walked around the corner to the central post office (this is in Spanish, if you would like to read it in another language, you can use a Chrome ot Firefox browser and select it to translate the article). It is a gorgeous building and while they say it is a museum, it is really just a showcase for the architecture. It was built during the reign of Porfirio Diaz, who is a very controversial figure in Mexican history. He became president following a series of uprisings and coups. He eliminated elections and ruled for about 35 years. During that time, he ruthlessly crushed rebellions, of which there were quite a few, and allowed little dissent. However, he also promoted modernization of the country and invested massive amounts into infrastructure and culture to build a cohesive society. As I said, he is a controversial figure.

We crossed the street and headed into the National Museum of Art. It is another gorgeous building, built around the same time as the post office. It was previously the Communications and Public Works Palace. (I guess it makes sense for the public works building to be one of the nicest buildings built by the department of public works.) While the building is very beautiful, the art that it houses is even nicer. It is full of the work of Mexican artists, including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Jesse Orozo and David Siqueiros. Most of the work is paintings, but there are some sculptures. It is a great museum and we really enjoyed ourselves. A quick note for those of you who click the link and see the price of $80 per person. Please be aware that in Mexico, the symbol for the peso is $, just like the symbol in the United States is $ for a dollar. The U.S. dollar is worth about 18 Mexican pesos, so the entrance price in dollars is $4.44.

Once we had finished raising our cultural level, we did the only reasonable thing. We headed around the corner to Plaza Garibaldi and went to the Museum of Tequila and Mezcal. It is a small museum that describes the history of tequila and mezcal. They are essentially the same product, a distilled form of the agave cactus. Tequila is limited to only blue agave and is only made in the state of Jalisco. Mezcal is made elsewhere in Mexico, much of it in the state of Oaxaca, but not limited to there and is made from any type of agave. Mezcal tends to made by burning the agave and that gives is a smokier flavor. Tequila is usually baked or steamed, so it does not tend to be smoky. More importantly, the entrance fee of the museum comes with tastings of both. So after our (brief) tour of the museum, we headed in the bar and tasted a bit of both. Plaza Garibaldi is known for the roaming mariachi bands, who will serenade you for a small fee. Once again, it is one of the can’t miss things in Mexico City. The bar of the museum faces the square, so while we were doing our tasting we were serenaded by a mariachi band. It was nice, but we liked the bands we heard in Tlaquepaque, when we were in Guadalajara better.

Sue posing so we could get a photo of the sleeping guy

After our tasting and musical interlude, we hopped on the subway and headed home for a quick rest. We had evening plans for dinner with the tres amigas, a postponement from Friday night. We headed to Teresa & Stephanie’s for a drink and then we went around the corner to Taqueria Tavo’s Buenavista for dinner. The food was perfect Mexican food. Fresh, cheap, fast and delicious. We had a quick meal and then headed out to sample the nightlife. Stephanie and Teresa took us first to one of their local bars, which was just a hole in the wall dive bar (una barra mala muerte en español). The best part about it was that two of the patrons were sleeping at their tables. The wait staff paid no attention to them and at various times the woke up, had a quick drink and fell back to sleep. I guess since no one was snoring, there was no need to bother them.

Our second stop was at a slightly nicer, much larger and much noisier place. They had a band playing traditional Mexican music and lots of people were dancing, some in front of the band, some just next to their tables. Stephanie taught (tried to teach) both Teresa and Sue how to dance, and she was assisted at some points by one of the other patrons. It was very fun.

We headed to another place with a rooftop bar that overlooked the Monument to the Revolution, unfortunately they were having a private party. We all decided that it was getting late, so we called it a night and headed home.

Sunday, Sue and I headed to Ciudadela Market, which is an artisan market in El Centro. We were tired from the late night, and the amount of exercise we got on Saturday, so we took the subway to and from market. It is tourist-focused market, meaning there are lots of Mexican crafts of all qualities from beautiful hand made copper pots to machine made woven blankets with American sport team logos. We wandered throughout the market, but nothing seemed worth buying (it’s difficult to think about buying decorative items or housewares when everything you own is in storage and you don’t have any idea when you want that to change) and we headed back to our neighborhood for lunch at a local taco stand (una fonda) where we ate the first day we arrived. We spent the rest of Sunday relaxing as it had been a busy weekend.

Eating, Walking, Biking, Eating

We kicked off the weekend with a BBQ with Stephanie, Teresa and Vanessa. The last time we tried, we were thwarted by people who planned and had reserved the roof deck. Friday, we were successful. Steph and Teresa brought meat from Chihuahua, Steven made chicken shwarma, I made vegetable fried rice and bought a veggie burger from the vegan carniceria (butcher, yes, a vegan butcher (isn’t that a tautology? like giant shrimp), and Vanessa brought the michelada makings.

Stephanie taught us how to light the charcoal by putting sugar in a paper towel, pouring some vegetable oil over it and setting it ablaze. Worked like a charm. We bought a cake, because we wanted to have a dessert. Stephanie expounded upon the horrors of English cake so I was a bit worried that a cake from the supermarket would not make muster, but Steph and Vanessa agreed that it was delicious. We also decided that it seemed like a birthday cake and Steven won the birthday lottery because his was the next one up. That meant the Mexican birthday song, blowing out a candle, and the tradition of shoving his face in the cake. The harem (except for me) was worried that he would be upset, but Steven is nothing if not a good sport and he took it in very good humor. (I am told that usually they put your face into the entire cake, but good sense prevailed because who would want to eat cake that had my face in it?)

Steven is a great sport! Happy (very) early birthday to him.

Entertaining is one of the major life events we miss in this crazy life. Our social network is ourselves and temporary people we meet along the way. We may stay in touch with some of them, but they are travelers like us, so chances of us being in the same place again are slim.

Saturday, we decided to take it easy by only going to the gym and then for a short (6 mile) wander. We revisited the neighborhood where we stayed when we came here for a weekend last year during our stay in Guadalajara. We were hoping to get back there to see to our friends, but schedules just didn’t allow for it (see what I mean).

We had no goal, which was relaxing if you’re not us. We have a hard time without a destination, but managed to pretend enough (let’s walk past that hotel Doug and Kenta like) so that we were happy. We stopped for a cold beer (at a really great dive bar on a side calle that I am sure we will never find again) and then headed home for baseball and rest before dinner.

The waiter recommended the spices to put in my pozole, left. I listened. It was hot!

Friday night the ladies were shocked to know that we hadn’t been to La Casa de Toño, which serves up traditional Mexican food in a casual environment. They have vegetarian pozole and a bunch of other food I can eat plus plenty for Steven. It’s a cross between a fast food place and a sit-down restaurant. You order on a piece of paper like dim sum and then the wait staff literally (in the literal sense) run up and down the aisles serving people. The restaurant was spotlessly clean, the food delicious, at least four people asked us if everything was good or if we needed something else, and we were stuffed. All for 350 pesos, or less than $20.

Our outpost of La Casa de Toño is across the street from a mall that contains PF Chang, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Applebee’s, Carl’s Jr, Domino’s, Panda Express and Cheesecake Factory, in case you want generic food from the US.

Sunday we went for brunch with the gang. We rode bikes to Cafe C in Colonia de Valle, a barrio that seems almost suburban. It’s only a 15-minute jaunt, but it’s subtly all up hill with one highway overpass. Steven has tree trunks for thighs, so biking is a breeze, but I’m a little slower. Still, it was a fairly easy ride. We got sold the restaurant because they make foam animals for your drinks. The company was great, but the foam animals and the food were not worth the two-hour wait, although it’s hard to go too wrong with pancakes covered in chocolate. We were all tired afterwards, so we biked home (downhill!) and took it easy (read: watched baseball) the rest of the day.

We have reached that time when we realize we only have two weekends left here and (are panicked that) there’s so much we haven’t done. Next weekend is likely to be packed with sightseeing (we have located the Museo de Tequila y Mezcal!!! ) and more eating.

Seder, Pyramids, Baseball and Friends: A Perfect Weekend

What’s Pesach without a seder? How would I know why this night is different from all other nights of the year?

We decided to invite our friends over since they are interested in Judaism (one of them is technically Jewish, but was not brought up religious), so we trudged (and by trudged I mean Ubered) over to Polanco, where there are Jews and kosher supermarkets. The selection was surprisingly good, although I didn’t get any chocolate matzah, however, there were “fruit” slices aplenty and the actually taste like their color (the ones we usually get in the US seem to only taste of sugar). Weird.

We printed out the relevant pages of the Chabad haggadah and I made chicken soup thanks to the very nice poultry guy at the mercado who gave me extra bones and chicken legs. My Gran would have been proud. Instead of brisket, we had chicken breasts with tahini sauce with roasted veggies and potato on the side. (for someone who doesn’t eat meat, Sue is an amazing cook and everything was fabulous)

The haggadah was a little weird, but we made it work and had a great time explaining traditions and history. Teresa decided she wants to be Jewish and we decided to let her in. Next year in Mexico City!

Saturday we took a walk (not quite a death march) to see Templo Mayor, or the Grand Temple, an archeological site smack dab in the middle of the city and has a museum attached. Steven said it reminded him of Rome. Just walking along the modern streets when all of a sudden, there’s a structure from ancient times – in this case pre-Colombian circa 1325, young in Roman terms. Tenochtitlan (now CDMX) was the capital of the Aztec empire and the pyramid-shaped temple was dedicated to the god of war, Huitzilopochtli, and the god of rain, Tlaloc. I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know that every time we go to an archeological site in Mexico, we learn that Hernan Cortes destroyed it and built a church on top of it. Before Cortes arrived, the pyramids had been expanded seven times and you can see the layers of expansion at the site.

When the Spaniards arrived, the temple stood 150 feet high and had a square base with each side measuring 440 yards. One of the reasons the site is so well preserved is that it was buried under new construction and wasn’t rediscovered until 1914.

First, you wander around the site, which began being excavated in the 1970s. The path leads to the museum, which focuses on the finds from the site. They’re still digging, so who knows what they’ll find next.

We were hungry, so we headed over to a kitschy Mexican place a few blocks away. I have read many times not to be in El Centro after dark, and I have to say that even in the daylight if you wander a bit off track, it’s not the nicest of atmospheres. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I am definitely glad it was light out.

Yummy fresh pasta!

Saturday night, we ventured all the way around the corner for a very delicious Italian meal at Barolo (warning: FB link). They make their own pasta in a glassed-in area so you can watch. I ended up having mushroom risotto, which was incredible, and Steven had cacio e pepe, also amazing. We couldn’t resist desert and a grappa – a very good grappa – and went home stuffed but very happy.

And, what’s spring without beisbol? Sunday we took the Metro to Estadio Alfredo Harp Helú, home of the Diablos Rojos for a preseason game against the Oaxaca Guerreros. The stadium is about the size of a U.S. minor league stadium and we were four rows behind the plate. It was Easter, so the red devil mascot was also a bunny. An odd juxtaposition, but a blast nonetheless. Our boys lost, but we had a great time and got to try papas con salsa picante y limón. Yum! I also had a michelada, sort of. There was no tomato juice involved, but there was salt, lime and chamoy. Don’t ask what chamoy is. Let’s just go with it’s red.

After the game, we went out for tacos at Párama because we tried the Thai place down the block, but it closes early on Sundays. From there, we retired to our roof for a drink until we all got too cold. Besides it was Sunday and Monday is a work day.

One Day Road Trip

Yesterday, we went on a one day road trip with our friends Steffanie and Teresa, and their friend (and our new friend) Vanessa. Steffanie and Teresa rented a car and we decided to head to see the Popocatépetl and Itzaccihuatl volcanoes and then the Great Pyramid of Cholula.  

Itzaccihauatl (which is dormant) and Popocatépetl, Popo for short, (which is not) are outside a town called Atlixco, which is about 3 hours outside of Mexico City. Well, more like an hour and a half outside of Mexico City, but it takes about an hour and a half just to get to the edge of the city. So all in, a three-hour trip.

We arrived at Atlixco at about 11:30 and quickly decided that it was time to eat. Vanessa found us a great place called Paraiso Palmira. We ordered a late breakfast/early lunch and enjoyed the lovely view of the restaurant grounds. After breakfast, we headed into the center of Atlixco, which has a cute little downtown and we wandered around the main square. Just outside of the center of town there is a large hill (500 feet or so high) and on top of the hill the Spanish quite generously built a very small yellow church that has great views of the volcanoes. Our first inclination was to walk up the hill, but then we remembered that it was in the mid-90s, it is a pretty steep climb and you can drive most of the way up. Steffanie guided the car over the single lane, cobblestone, switchback-laden road. Once we reached the end of the road (literally), we parked and walked the rest of the way up. It was a fairly easy climb with a combination of ramps and even stairs. The view from the top was pretty incredible. Popocatépetl’s last significant eruption was in 2000, but there was some minor “activity” last night.

After Atlixco, we headed to a Cholula, where somewhat surprisingly they do not make Cholula brand hot sauce. The city is home to the ruins of the largest pyramid in the world by volume (there is a great model of the site if you follow the link). We (and by we I mean Teresa) drove us into the city and we were very surprised by both the size of the city and the fact that the archaeological site was right in the center of it. The Spanish quite kindly built another yellow church on the top of the pyramid, perhaps on the assumption that putting a church on top of someone else’s sacred ground makes the church itself more sacred. The temple-pyramid complex was built in four stages, starting from the 3rd century BCE through the 9th century CE, and was dedicated to the deity Quetzalcoatl. We wandered through the ruins, which had very complete and interesting explanations. One of the things that made it so interesting was that you could see inside the buildings. At Teotihuacán, the pyramids have been restored, and so while you can see inside many of the living quarters, you cannot see what was inside the pyramids. 

It was now late afternoon, and we decided that given the temperature (still mid 90s), the fact that we had been out in the sun most of the day and the sun was over the yardarm, it was clearly time to find a place for a nice beer. We walked back into town and settled into a place called Calfie’s Brewing Company (sorry it is a Facebook link). We relaxed, cooled down, had a beer and discussed the next important activity. Dinner. We decided that it was too early to eat, so we headed back to the car to drive back to Mexico City and have dinner there.

Steffanie, once again, did the heavy lifting of driving back to and in Mexico City. If we have not mentioned driving here before, the easiest way to describe it is bumper cars, driven by the blind on roads that go from 2 unmarked lanes to 6 unmarked lanes, back to 2 unmarked lanes in any given 500 meter stretch and just to make it more interesting, the signs align to neither the roads nor to Google Maps’ description of the roads. Add to that, there is no required driving test to drive a car and EVERYONE in Mexico City believes that they need to be driving somewhere at every moment of every day. Yes, it is easy and low stress.  

We had decided that we would try an Indian restaurant for dinner. We arrived at about 9 p.m. and quickly order way too much food.  In full disclosure I ordered a whole bunch of food and then asked what else anyone else wanted, Sue is used to my ordering technique, but everyone else was a little surprised. The food was at best mediocre, but it was still a fun meal and we closed the place down around 10:30. We were all exhausted by this time so we said good night and went our separate ways.

48 hours in Oaxaca

This blog is dedicated to Aunt Es, who always had a great question about our travels and always listened to our answers. We’ve hoisted a glass of red wine for you, Aunt Es.

You know how there are all these features online and in travel sections of what were formerly newspapers titled “48 hours in …”? Well, this isn’t exactly that because we did what we did and we can’t say we hit all the highlights or know the perfect places to go, but here’s the fun adventure we had last weekend.

Our flight out of Mexico City was a bit over 90 minutes delayed, so we landed 50 minutes late. It’s really about a 50-60 minute flight, but it’s booked for 90. Our next mistake (after flying on Friday evening with the rest of the weekenders) was not realizing that the regular cab fare from the airport was for a shared van. If you ever go to Oaxaca, get the especial taxi, which is solo. It was half the price, but we also got a tour of some of the less touristica parts of the city.

One of the important aspects of Mexico to know is that places often look very sketchy from the outside … and then the outer door opens and Wow! This was the case with our hotel, Ayook. I was a bit worried when we got dropped off, but the interior was lovely, the staff was attentive and the room was comfortable. Plus, it came with breakfast: coffee, fresh squeezed oj, breakfast bread and a choice of two entrees. Can’t beat it. It was a few blocks from the center of town, so if you want to be in the thick of it without a walk, it’s probably not the hotel for you.

We had reservations for dinner at 7:30 and we got to the hotel with time to unpack, get our bearings and head over. We thought the food was good if the server was a bit, how shall we say, forgetful? Oaxaca is known for mole and I had plantain fritters with mole and then enchiladas. Steven had chicken with black mole and an appetizer of empanadas in, what else, mole. OK, I ate the mushroom one, which was also yummy. Most of the restaurants have open courtyards, so we dined under the stars.

Saturday morning, we had a tour at 8 a.m., so we called it a night (It’s a night!) after dinner and just relaxed in our room. (Remind me why we do this – we decide to have a nice weekend away, but then schedule a tour so early we need to set an alarm…I am sure at some point we will stop doing this, but I just don’t know when.)

Our guide, Bamal, showed up right on time. We had just finished breakfast and were heading to Hierve de Agua, which translates to “bubbling water.” It is a geological formation of petrified (really calcified) waterfalls with three pools in which to swim. Since we had already eaten breakfast, we made a quick stop at a market where we tried traditional Oaxacan bread and hot chocolate, rather than having breakfast there. Both were delicious.

The ride to Hierve de Agua was through the foothills and we saw farmland, a local council meeting, and a goat herder (a boy of maybe 12) (he was herding goats, so we knew he was a goat herder, its not like he was wearing a sign or had a special goat herding outfit) along the way. There’s a paved road part of the way now, newly opened during Covid, which cut about a third off the now 2-hour trip.

The site has three lookout points. You walk down from the parking lot, passing the swimming area to see the waterfall from below. We were told we didn’t really have to go all the way down, but, who are we kidding? Of course we did. The guide, who did not come with us for reasons you will discover in the next blog, told us there were about 80 steps down to the last lookout. Child’s play! I am a counter, and I counted (en español or supuesto). There are 151 steps down, which means there are 151 steps back up. I hate rock stairs almost as much as I hate boulders (I hate guides who can’t count steps – or just reduce the number so that it doesn’t seem so daunting).

It was worth it and it was hot, which was great because then I was willing to go in the water which all the Mexican people agreed was FRIO! Steven and I swam around until I started getting cold and we headed back. We thought our tour included Mitla, one of Mexico’s many ruins, but it didn’t. However, our driver and tour guide were kind enough to take us there anyway since Bamal believed the website was a bit confusing.

The ruins at Mitla are a well-preserved Zapotec burial site with temples that the Spaniards found in 1521 as a working city and then cannibalized to build the church of San Pablo. The Zapotecs were the predominant culture in what is now Oaxaca and indigenous people still speak many dialects of the language. Because the Spaniards and others built directly on top of existing structures, ruins are discovered all the time. Bamal told us that when people excavate to build foundations or basements, they often find ruins which they are supposed to report or face fines. However, many people do not because that would limit their ability to improve their homes or businesses. Nevertheless, there are thousands of sites in the state, which is a bit larger than Indiana. (The government is currently excavating something like 2,000 sites.)

By the way, the city of Oaxaca (just like New York, it’s so nice they named it twice), is a UNESCO world heritage site.

What would a weekend in Oaxaca be without a mescal tasting? After Mitla we went to a restaurant and distillery and tasted nine, yes nine!, of their mescals. The key difference between tequila, which can only be made in the state of Jalisco, and mescal, is that mescal can be distilled from any variety of agave, while tequila is only made from blue agave. The Mexican name for agave is maguey.

The tasting was fun and we got to try mescal made from wild agave, which, because it can take up to 30 years to grow, is expensive! We had the perfect excuse not to buy because we were flying and couldn’t bring liquid on the plane.

We arrived back at the hotel around 4, pretty tired and sweaty. It’s hot in Oaxaca. Our dinner reservation wasn’t until 9:30, but we needed the rest and the shower. By the time dinner rolled around, I was hungry, but I am here to tell you that it was worth the wait.

We went to Las Danzantes, which either was recommended to me or I found on a web site of great restaurants. Steven had the mole sampler (six different types!) with banana fritters and I had the mixed bugs see left and right. No joke. Five different types of bugs with guacamole, salsa, and tortillas. The waiter carefully explained the bugs and how I should eat them (in Spanish!). He also explained the mole types to Steven. I know I’m a vegetarian, but I don’t find eating bugs objectionable. It’s not like they are penned up and live miserable lives before I crunch on them.

For our main course, I had a chile relleno stuffed with huitacoche, a fungus that grows on the ears of corn. I know, sounds yucky, but it tastes good, has more protein and the amino acid lycine than corn. Steven had chicken breast stuffed with pumpkin flour and cheese with red mole. He said it was yummy.

I couldn’t help myself and ordered goat cheese flan with lavender and chocolate for dessert. It sounded kind of icky, but I figured it might be my only chance to try such a thing and it was totally worth it. It didn’t have the tang of goat cheese, but it was firmer than flan and had chocolate. Can’t go wrong. The meal was excellent and the service was impeccable. (I noticed that she didn’t mention the mescal cocktails nor the different sipping mescals we ordered – so neither will I.)

We didn’t have any plans for Sunday and had to check out of our hotel at noon, so we ate breakfast and chilled until then. Steven found a walking tour of Oaxaca and we followed that for a few hours. It was great because we got a nice overview of areas where we hadn’t been and even stopped into the Museum of Contemporary Art Oaxaca. The botanic gardens was closed, unfortunately. I still think it’s weird that tourist attractions are closed on Sunday, but maybe it’s nice that people don’t have to work every day.

Oaxaca is known for pottery and textiles as well as art and food food food. We wandered around a few shops, but since we don’t have a place to put anything, we don’t buy anything except fridge magnets.

We grabbed lunch at the zocalo, or main square, and watched the world go by until it was time to get our suitcase and head to the airport. A few hours later we were back in CDMX, having spent more time in taxis than on the plane.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from CDMX

Last year we were in Rome for St. Patrick’s Day. Wow, does that seem a looooong time ago. Our lives are packed with new experiences. Anyway, we tried to go to an Irish pub, but it had lost power and was closed, so we ended up at a wine bar. No complaints, but no green beer either.

This year we had more luck, although the pub, Wallace’s, is probably Scottish? Nevermind, the actual Irish pub a few doors down was crammed with Americans, some of them a bit obnoxious. Who would have thought? After deciding that wasn’t the scene for us, we went back to Wallace’s and lucked into a table.

I couldn’t bear the thought of drinking green Corona (maybe it was Modelo, but still) so we ordered a couple of Guinesses. We noticed a guy sitting next to us completely alone. He was waiting for friends, he said. St. Patrick’s Day and Friday of a three-day weekend (more on that in a minute) and the traffic coming from the south was rough. As he nursed his beer, he said it would be about another 40 minutes. It’s common in Latin America. Yes, time is flexible here.

An hour later, I asked again. One friend was having work trouble, but the other would be there in 40 minutes. She was getting ready. In Spanish, there’s a different word for getting decked out and just getting dressed. He used the word for getting decked out. Finally, Natalie did arrive and she was very gracious. She thanked us for talking to Abner and we all ended up chatting. They both spoke great English (although I tried to speak Spanish!). They had a lot of ideas for where we should go and Abner even invited us to his nephew’s 15th birthday party. Too bad we will be in Oaxaca (not that I’m upset about being in Oaxaca, but I would have loved to go to the party). They both had interesting life stories and we exchanged information. Maybe we’ll see them again before we go.

Side note: Everywhere I have been, I have heard “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and Wallace’s was no different. In fact, a whole contingent of revelers sang along with it. Can’t beat ’80s American hair bands, I guess.

Monday is a federal holiday here and while they don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo, they do celebrate the day in 1938 that President Lázaro Cárdenas kicked the gringos out of the oil industry here and created Pemex, the Mexican oil company. (My friend, Perla the librarian, explained it to me in Spanish: “Adios gringos, esta es nuestra dinero!” or something like that.) Oil expropriation day is technically March 18 and coincidentally the third Monday in March is the commemoration of the birthday of Benito Juarez. I guess you can pick which one to celebrate.

Sunday, we decided to get out of our neighborhood. We headed to Coyoacán, which is where Frida Kahlo lived, but we didn’t visit her home again. We started at Parque Nacional Viveros de Coyoacán. Viveros means nursery and the park is really a 38.9 hectare tree nursery for reforestation projects in Mexico City. It’s a beautiful, shaded park (as you can imagine) with lots of joggers and nature lovers.

From there, we wandered the area, stopping into the Mercado de Coyoacán, which is a food market, but also sells lots of clothes and Mexican tchotchkes or in Spanish, tanteria. In fact, there is a ton of tanteria for sale on the streets, in the alleys, and in bazaars cluttered around the main tourist routes. If you want churrios or elotes, you’re in luck here. We bought yummy chocolate and some all natural face lotion and shampoo. We like to support local business. There are some very touristy areas of Coyoacán, including its central square, but it’s also a neighborhood that feels more like old Mexico City with beautiful and colorful architecture.

When we made our pilgrimage to Casa Azul, Frida’s house, we ate at a tosada restaurant, Amatista Tosadas, and went back this time as well. It’s still delicious! Then we wandered aimlessly for a few blocks and found a small, peaceful square out of the fray. When we were tired of sitting (after about 30 seconds), I found there was an alley nearby that housed a shrine to the Virgin Mary (not at all an unusual find here) and a mural, but the real reason we walked over there is because it is supposed to be haunted. We found no spectral evidence, but the walk was lovely.

Notice the difference in height from the new concrete to the street.

By then we were ready to head home, so we called an Uber. We Ubered over there because it is a long walk, but somehow we still managed to get in more than 14,000 steps. I have no idea how that happened!

See those pieces on the side? They don’t fit the gaps. In fact, they are duplicates. So frustrating!

Side note 2: For some reason, a concrete platform is being constructed in the middle of the intersection on our corner. Anyway, the street is closed, which is nice from a noise perspective, but I’m not sure what the plan is.

Side note 3: I finished the puzzle and guess what????? There are THREE pieces missing. I would blame myself, but there are also two repeated pieces. I have complained to customer service and so far have not heard back. In case you are wondering: Don’t buy puzzles from the Italian company Clementoni unless you want to be sorely disappointed.

Daylight Savings Us from the 6 a.m. Gym

When you woke up this morning you had somehow lost an hour of your life. When we woke up this morning, we had not. Time is relative. I think it was Einstein who proved this, although I might be confused. Last year, the Mexican legislature decided to do away with Daylight Savings Time. It is kinda stupid this far south. The good news for us is that Steven will start working at 8 a.m. since that is now 9 a.m. Central Time. Does that seem like a good thing? It is! Do you know why? Because that means we can’t go to the gym at 7, which means we won’t be getting up at 6:15 a.m. Yay! There’s no way we’re going to the gym at 6 a.m., so we’re just going to suck it up and go at different times during the day that work for us since I still want to do morning yoga, but at the civilized hour of 9 a.m. instead of 7.

You may know that I am no longer taking Spanish classes except with our tutor. Finally, this week, I met with the mom of my yoga instructor. Silvia wants to practice her English and I want to speak to Mexican people in Spanish. We had a great conversation and are planning to do it again Tuesday. The only way to learn a language is to speak the language. I definitely think my Spanish is improving, but only poco a poco as the waiter said to me last night.

Where were we last night that a waiter was talking to me? I’m glad you asked! We had an eventful Saturday that ended with a night at Jazzatlan, a club close to our apartment. We thought we were going to hear a jazz singer, but apparently during the pandemic, they got a yen for the blues, so we heard a bunch of blues standards from singer Louise Phelan and Octavio Herrera on guitar. If you want your students to learn real U.S. history instead of the version being legislated around our fair nation, maybe send them to a jazz club in Mexico. The singer and lead guitarist explained Jim Crow laws to give one of the songs context.

Before jazz, I had decided I wanted Italian food because I had smelled garlic walking by a different restaurant. We looked up a place close to the jazz club and then learned that it’s best to eat Italian food where Italian people live. The pasta was passable, but I wouldn’t go back. We have had some good pizza, so maybe we just went to a not-so-great place with good reviews? At any rate, we had an OK dinner, it was beautiful out and then we headed over to jazz.

Rain clouds????

We were also witness to a crazy occurrence yesterday: A thunderstorm. It lasted about a minute and I saw two lightning bolts. Wow! Today, it’s so windy, a tree fell onto a power line and Zap!, we have no power. According to the landlord, this happens fairly frequently and will probably be fixed in about three hours. We decided to go for a walk and got rained on. What is going on here? The good news is that the landlord was pretty much exactly right. Power back in three hours.

So, back to Saturday: I want to make it clear that this week’s death march was not my fault. We had gone to the gym and then wanted to do something mellow since we knew we’d be out past our bedtime. I had seen that one of the world’s most beautiful libraries (No. 13), Biblioteca Vasconcelos, is here and I thought about going there, but it was about an hour long walk. I said: “Oh, that’s too far for today – we’ll do it another time.” But Steven said, “I’m game.” So off we went thinking that we would take an Uber back.

I started to worry that it wasn’t going to be worth the walk, especially when we approached the building, and it was surrounded by the bus station and a craptastic street market. I was wasting my angst. The library was beautiful and had an exhibit on the Divine Comedy with paintings of different scenes from the book and many examples of different printings (from back when a book was a physical object made from dead trees) dating back hundreds of years.

The building itself is hollow in the middle and the shelves are cantilevered up seven stories. You can see the Dewey decimal system numbers all the way up from the first floor. The lobby is divided into two with a staircase in the center. On one side a whale skeleton hangs from the ceiling. Between that reminding me of Sue at the Field Museum and the blues night, I was feeling a bit Chicago nostalgic – at least until I realized it was still snowing there.

Steven’s back has been a bit creaky, so I was figuring we would take an Uber back for sure, but he said, “Let’s just starting walking and see how it goes.” It was a bit cloudy, so that helped. You won’t be surprised to know that we walked all the way back. Just another self inflicted 10 mile death march.