Pardon the Interruption … It’s Family Time

When we last left off, we had arrived in Florida. We spent Mother’s Day there with Steven’s mom (Hi Mom!!), Aunt Es and Robin (Hi to you beautiful ladies, too). On Monday after Mother’s Day, we began the 15.5 hour drive up to Baltimore for our granddaughter’s birthday. She’s 2 and the cutest baby ever. I dare you to argue!

Fifteen hours is a long way, so we made it 12 and decided to stop. Here’s a hint: If you make the drive from South Florida to Baltimore, find somewhere to stop that is not Emporia, VA. I called it a one-horse town and Steven said I was being generous (extremely generous).

Obligatory Insta sign

We are now ensconced in a lovely AirBnB only three blocks from Camden Yards. Sadly, the Yankees were in town already, so dutiful wife that I am, I allowed Steven to drag me to a game, which also sadly, the Yankees won. The nice thing about being so close to a ballpark with a losing team is that it’s easy to get tickets. We decided at 6 o’clock to go to the 7:10 game and got great seats. Steven and his son had gone to the game that Monday and took advantage of the 1992-priced promotion tickets. Baseball for $18 a seat (The Yankees won both games! Gooo Yankees!).

Our next family event was my nephew’s graduation from University of Maryland. We thought we had lucked out when he told us we didn’t have to attend the whole school morning ceremony, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. We waited almost four hours to hear his name and watch him walk across the stage (which took 15 seconds or so), and that doesn’t count that we got there an hour and a half before it got started, which was already 30 minutes behind. Most of the basketball arena was empty by the time they got to him because the hungry, freezing masses started to leave after their loved ones walked. I feel bad for those last few grads, but we were all exhausted by then. It was wonderful to see the family and spend endless hours sitting next to my niece getting delirious and slap-happy from the endless recitation of names.

Next up, week spend a week watching our granddaughter, which will be fabulous and exhausting, so my nephew and I will be heading to Barcelona (Madrid and Lisboa, too) at the tail end of that to recuperate. (Leaving me to handle the last day on my own…Steven and a two year old, who will be looking after whom?)

Back in the USA

Plus a weekend in Belgium

We flew back to the US yesterday with little to no drama. Just a short delay at JFK and a bit of confusion about how to get from one terminal to the next. Delta wasn’t exactly clear about the process, but we made it. We stayed at the Sheraton at the Brussels airport and I have to say, that was great. The train from Bruges left us a few escalator rides from the hotel, which was directly across the street from the terminal.

We had most of the day to wander, so we took the train back into central Brussels, which hadn’t really impressed us the last time we were there. This time, we headed up to Parc du Cinquantenaire, about a 30-minute walk from the central train station. The park was built in 1880 for the 50th anniversary of Belgium’s freedom. When you walk toward the park, you can see three arches topped by a bronze chariot with four horses plus a beautiful view of Brussels. It houses three museums — Royal Museum of the Armed Forces & Military History, the Royal Museums of Art and History and Autoworld. Can you guess which one we visited?

Yes, you are correct — Autoworld! It’s a little pricey for what it is, but you can just wander and look at all kinds of cool cars. We think the museum buildings are repurposed train stations. Autoworld has sweeping arched ceilings, almost like a plane hangar. After the museum, we admired the landscaping and sat in the park a bit. Steven is excellent at finding restaurants that have food I can eat, so we set a course for our last Belgium beer and dinner. We sat outside at Au Brasseur, watching the people and enjoying the Belgian sun (which was in short supply during our trip). Our impression of Brussels is that its probably a very livable, international city (if you don’t mind the weather), but I wouldn’t put it at the top of my tourist wish list.

Middle Eastern or Asian food is always a good choice for me and my wonderful husband (in whose best interest it is to avoid hangry me (it is called self-preservation)) found a delicious Lebanese-Syrian place just a few minutes from Au Brasseur called East@West. Of course, the owner (at least I assume he was the owner) speaks four or five languages and they had a fabulous selection of vegan options, even kibbeh, which I have never had because it’s always meaty. This version had walnuts, which Steven said he had never had. We thoroughly enjoyed everything and then headed back to the hotel to get in one last night in the EU.

In Bruges

Of course, we ate frites, don’t even ask! Hold the mayo, though.

We had been in Bruges once before (which, you, our faithful reader already know), but we didn’t really have enough time, so we headed back. We made the mistake of not checking the train schedule careful and only found out that there was no speedy train from Amsterdam to Brussels on Saturday (or it was sold out), so it took about four hours. Oh well. Live and learn. Overall, I love the European trains!

Once again, we stayed at Hotel Academie, which is in a great location on a quiet street, but steps away from the tourist madness. The staff is lovely and helpful and the room features beautiful wallpaper with birds and flowers. Also, the bed is very comfortable! We stayed in an executive room, which offers a little more space. There’s even a closet (and it had a Murphy bed which we called Ellen after our friend in Chicago who has one in her apartment) . What’s up with all these hotels that have no place to put your clothes???

Anyway, the hotel is also two doors down from (surprise!) a beer place that is famous for a 12-glass tasting.. We thought it would be a couple of sips each, but no, they are half glasses full. I’m a light-weight, so I left most of it up to Steven (it is a tough job but someone has to do it). As is the case in most places we’ve been,the bar was playing a lovely selection of 1980s-90s American pop and I know all the words. Steven asked me the name of one of the bands, and as I said Duran Duran, so did two guys behind us. Next thing we knew, we were fast friends with Stephen and Oewen (that’s an approximation because he said his name was tough and sometimes he tells people to call him John). Anyway, they were really good guys and we had an fun learning a lot about Dutch life.

Sunday was museum day. We unenthusiastically figured we had to hit the Choco Story, or the chocolate museum. We thought it would be a tourist ripoff, but it was very informative about the history of chocolate and at the end we got all-you-can-eat chocolate (just don’t stuff your pockets and take it with you). We also hit the Torture Museum, but 100 methods of torture was a bit too depressing for us and we were glad to be done with it.

A great thing about having a bit more time and being wanderers is that we discover places we might have otherwise missed. Before leaving Bruges, we headed in the opposite direction from the hotel and ended up on a route that rings the city with a bike/walking path.

And now we are back for a bit, just in time for Mother’s Day and the famous American holiday Cinco de Mayo.

Hellos and Goodbyes

As we approach the end of our wonderful stay in Roma, we are faced with more goodbyes. Today, we said arrivederci (or ciao) to our trainer, Angelo, (from Rabbit Sport Center) who not only tortured us with full-body exercises for our aging carcasses, but invited us out for coffee with his partner, Meg. Not only is Angelo a very buff trainer, but he’s an excellent photographer. Meg works for the United Nations, so they are a real power couple, and sweet as well. Meg grew up in Toronto, so we were able to have a more comfortable conversation. Understandably, Angelo was shy about conversational English, but he did great (with some translating of more difficult topics like the differences in health care).

Didn’t have any pics of our new friends, so here’s one of a cat who was my friend while I petted it.
We have no idea who this is, but he accidentally AirDropped his photos to me, so I will call him The Unknown Friend.

Meeting new people, making a connection, learning about their culture and their lives makes life sweeter, but arrivedercis sting. We always say, “We’ll see you again, somewhere, sometime,” and we always mean it. Of course, we are moving targets and so are many of the people we meet. We’re attracted to open people with adventurous spirits, so they are just as likely to pick up and move as we are. It makes having a giant party a bit of a challenge.

Someday, when we settle down, we will issue a permanent invitation to all our far-flung friends and we will truly mean that they are welcome to stay with us. We now have friends in Mexico (in addition to our favs, Kenta and Doug), Brazil, Paris, Burgundy, Rome, Nice, The Netherlands and Jerusalem. Feel free to add to our list.

Although leaving here is melancholy, we will be reuniting with a friend we met in Paris, who lives in Israel. Not only will we meet him, but he is moving out of his place to let us stay there and his mom is meeting us there because he will be at work. Thank you, Gilad and family!

Speaking of Israel … We’ve been assured by all our Israeli connections that we will be perfectly safe despite the reports of increased tension. Passover and Ramadan (and Easter) apparently remind everyone that sharing a tiny piece of land is impossible for all who have the power (but not the will) to change things. Sigh.

We are leaving our AirBnB in Rome on Saturday and flying to Israel on Sunday. One of the foibles of our life (and increasingly feeble minds) is that we make logistical errors. We thought we booked the place until April 25, but Noooooooooooo, April 23. So, we’ll be staying at the airport, which works out since we have a somewhat early flight and are flying El Al, so we want to make sure we get there in plenty of time to get through security. But, keeping all the details straight can be difficult, even with Steven’s excellent spreadsheets.

Bologna + Somewhere in Tuscany

I had mentioned to our niece Genny that the two of us could go somewhere together during the week while we left Steven home to work. (Aren’t we nice?) She chose Bologna mostly because she had heard that it was liberal and LGBTQI+ friendly. Plus, it was only a bit over 2 hours by train as opposed to Venice, which is more than 4 hours. I guess I’m never going to make it to Venice, but who knows.

Sure, Bologna it is, I said. Genny had heard about an LGBTQI+ center that had events, so we booked a room and figured we’d check it out. … Unfortunately, it was only open in the morning and we got there Thursday evening when no events were scheduled. Oh well. Instead, we wandered the city center, ate delicious pasta (what else), rested for a bit and then sat outside sipping a cocktail at a (gay, but not aggressively so) bar just a few blocks away from the hotel.

Friday, we headed back to town and after I caved in and bought a charging cord from the Apple store (poor Genny was a trooper since my cheapness made me search fruitlessly for a knockoff to replace my broken one), we ate breakfast, shopped a bit and headed to the train station. Genny went back to Rome for a weekend with friends (and no old people) and I went to Florence to meet Steven and his friend Ronan. I got there a couple of hours before poor working man Steven, so I went native and decided to sit at a cafe. You may have seen my adventure in trying to speak Italian. Bottle, glass, whatever. It was wine, sun and relaxation in Firenze! And, no, I did not finish the bottle. I tried unsuccessfully to give some of it away, but the Italians and tourists alike seem to love the Aperol spritz. Not a fan, myself.

Fattoria Il Palagio

Steven’s train arrived and Ronan met us at the station for the 40-minute drive to his incredibly beautiful home in somewhere Tuscany that’s 40 minutes northwest of Florence. I dream of living somewhere like that for maybe 6 months or maybe that’s too long considering there’s not much to do. Although … hiking, biking, gardening, photography, eating. We had an amazing time. Friday night, we went to a fabulous local restaurant, Fattoria Il Palagio, that looked like what you would imagine if someone said “Tuscan stone villa” to you. I had fried artichokes (its artichoke season!) and tortelli, which is local to the area and is ravioli stuffed with tomato and potato. How can you go wrong with carbs stuffed with carbs? Oh, and topped with Italian sauce. Steven had the same pasta but with a meat sauce. That’s what he always has. Oh wait, he had something with ragu (a ragu is a meat sauce, but that was my first course, my main course was a local stew called peposo). Sorry, Uncle David. We know it’s not as good as the ragu in Bologna, but according to Steven, it was very good (yes it was fabulous as was the peposo).

We were happy for the chill weekend since we have been doing our usual running around and Steven has been working a ton (to keep me in the lifestyle to which I would like to become accustomed). Ronan is a great host and we enjoyed taking Ronan’s dog Rufus for walks, watching Ronan cook for us, letting Ronan make us coffee, drinking Ronan’s wine(and gin and grappa). My life advice for you is as follows: Make a friend who lives in Tuscany, preferably one as nice as Ronan!

Antica Osteria de Montecarelli

Sunday, we went to Antica Osteria di Montecarelli, a tiny restaurant in what once was a house, and ate giant platefuls of pasta. Ronan had to use his locals only skills to get us in and it was worth it. We stayed full for most of the day and just had a snack for dinner.

Our time in Rome is winding down. This upcoming weekend is Easter(and sadly our last weekend) and already everything is much more crowded and the traffic has multiplied (along with the honking horns). We were thinking of heading to the Vatican to see El Papa, but did you know that Mass starts at 10 a.m. and the recommendation is that we get there by 8 a.m.? That seems early for us, so we may leave the Pope to the Catholics on Easter Sunday. We’ll see.

Eleven-train weekend

Yes, that’s right: 11 trains. Sounds a bit overboard (off the rails?)(UGH! She is stealing my jokes!), but it just kind of happened that way. We started out Friday taking a cooking class about 25 minutes (by train) outside of Rome. That required getting to Roma Termini by Metro and then taking the regional train out (stay tuned for a blog on our train mishaps!). Four trains round trip.

Only the local trains were this highly decorated.

Saturday morning we headed to Pompeii. Back on the Metro to Termini for the intercity train to Napoli followed by the regional train to Pompeii. But wait! We went from there to Sorrento on another train. Keep up with me here; we’re up to 8 trains.

Of course, we had to get back on Sunday, so Sorrento to Napoli, Napoli to Termini, and Metro home. Phew! But, it was all worth it because cooking class, Pompeii, and Sorrento!

Friday

Our cooking class was taught by Claudia, with entertainment by Bruno, her husband. They are a great combo. One other couple (Hi Eva & Hosea – sorry Hosea if I have misspelled your name) had also signed up for the class and they turned out to be fun companions (I was a little concerned when we first met them because they are from New Jersey – but despite that – they were really great). We spent a lot of time chatting as we made two kinds of ravioli and beef rolled and stuffed with something (what do I know, sono vegetariana!). While we rolled dough and blabbed, Claudia made a delicious salad of oranges, fennel, fresh olives (from their trees), salt and olive oil (which she makes) and Bruno provided piano accompaniment with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely, John Lennon’s Imagine, and a jazz version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall And Volare! I’ve been in Italy for 4 weeks and it’s the first time I’ve heard it.

The delicious dinner took a bit longer to complete than expected and we ended up rushing out the door at 20:05 to try to make the 20:12 train, a 15-minute drive away. Quote of the weekend from Bruno: “I think it’s impossible, but we will try.” Try and succeed after a mad dash to the platform. Thanks to the conductor who held the train for us while we ran up the steps with very full stomachs.

Saturday

You already know how we got to Pompeii. We did have an OK lunch in Napoli, allegedly creator of pizza, and then got back on the train. BTW, Napoli is a bit gritty, but it’s hard to get a fair judgment from the area around a train station in any city. Certainly no one approached us and we never felt we or our belongings were in danger.

We arrived in Pompeii about 13:30 and wandered for 3 hours. I had no idea how big the city had been. Being there turned Steven and I philosophical. He was musing on the scope of time and I on how beautiful and civilized a place it seemed to have been. Bathhouses, government buildings, commercial streets, an amphitheater and a societal structure of haves and have nots (and the have lesses) all wiped out by caprice only years after a major earthquake followed by rebuilding.

One of the joys of traveling off season (and at what I hope is the tail end of COVID restrictions) is that nothing is overly crowded. So much nicer to travel without elbowing through throngs.

Pompeii shuts down around 17:00, but we reached our limit about 16:30, so we got back on a train and headed to Sorrento.

We had a room in a hotel just around the corner from the train station (Diamond Suite), but when we arrived, we couldn’t find the place. The manager (owner?) Michele kindly came downstairs and found us. He was a wonderfully helpful person and I bet if we were staying longer, he would have had some secretly great recommendations for us. The place itself was no luxury hotel, but it was spotless, had a nice balcony and a comfortable bed (but the shower did have mood lighting!).

After a short rest, we wandered the narrow streets of Sorrento until someone got a bit hangry (not saying it was Sue, but it was totally Sue). After fruitlessly marching around looking for restaurants based on Google information (COVID has changed a lot and times in Italy aren’t exactly set int stone), we landed at La Maison Douce. The food was delicious, but the waiter made the night. He was friendly and comped us limoncello. (Think he knew we had a blog?) Plus, they had FEW gin, straight from Evanston, IL. Who would have thought(I used to live a block from the distillery, and have done the tour…just a few times.)

Sunday

It was a day for (death) marching. We headed down to the water for some photo ops at the Marina Grande. Ah, ancient stone dwellings built into cliffs and the requisite restaurants and their touts beseeching you to eat lunch at their establishment. Plus, an obstacle course for drivers. Why do people buy big cars in Italy?

We realized we couldn’t escape without having an aperol spritz, so we gave in. I knew it would be a bit bitter, and it was. I steer very clear of Campari because it’s even more bitter. I’m plenty bitter without adding to it(notice I am not saying anything).

We planned a late lunch because we wouldn’t be home until well after dinner time. Steven found a place, O’Parrucchiano La Favorita, but neither of us had any idea what a big deal it was. The place was huge, packed and it had lemon groves out back. Once again, the food was yummy. I guess you just can’t go wrong with pasta. We thought we had plennnnty of time, but suddenly it was 16:00, we had to stop at the hotel to pick up our backpacks and our train to Napoli left at 16:24. Oops! Getting the timing right on the little things can be the toughest part of travel. Sometimes we’re sitting around at the airport for hours and other times we’re sweating it out.

We made the train without a hitch, but it stopped for extended stretches at a few stops. Steven turned to me and said, “I think we’re going to be late.” We had left 30 minutes between the Napoli train and the one back to Roma, but we had to find the right track, walk from the local station to the main station, well, we worried a bit. All’s well that ends well, however. We had no difficulties (this time) and made the train with 10 minutes to spare. To cap off a great weekend, we got to the Metro platform just as our train arrived and we were home by 20:00.

Once in the door, Steven said to me, “I’m really tired for 7 o’clock.”

I replied, “It’s not; it’s 8.”

“Then, why does the clock say 7?”

Oops! We had completely forgotten about daylight savings time. No wonder we slept so late. Good thing for cell phone clocks or we really would have messed up our train schedule.

Weekend in Milano

But first, a visit with an old friend

I used to work with an amazing reading teacher, Ellen. Ellen is now living in Amsterdam with her family and they are living the good life too. Finally, finally after trying several times to meet up, she happened to be in Rome last weekend. I hopped in a cab to Trastevere and after a little confusion (the cab driver dumped me off at the correct street, but not the correct address) she appeared on the street before me. Yay! We had a coffee and a catch-up. I can’t wait to see her again! More incentive to visit Amsterdam.

Off to Milano

I am sure you all are aware of how classy we are, so it will come as no surprise to you that we took the train to Milano on Saturday afternoon so we could go to the ballet at La Scala. Ha! The truth of the matter is that when someone asks us, “Hey, want to do __________?” our default answer is “YES!” so when the person we apartment-sat for last August in Paris asked us if we wanted to see him conduct the ballet at La Scala, well, see above. Three hours on the train plus the Metro ride to the train? Paying for a night in a hotel? Know nothing about ballet? So what? The tickets were free! I’ll just say that we weren’t the worst dressed people there(which is the only bar I was willing to set for me).

We had no expectation of what Milano was like. I was there in a different lifetime and didn’t really have much in the way of memory of it except that I didn’t think we were impressed. Either we weren’t in the right area or I was impressed by different things way back when. We arrived in the evening and were staying fairly close to La Scala in the touristy Duomo area. It’s a little painful that beautiful buildings are now homes for Guess and Foot Locker(and of course, the ever present McDonalds), but it’s the way of the world. At least when you’re not shopping, you can admire the architecture.

Our friend mentioned that we DEFINITELY had to go to Ambrosiana, which is a museum and library. Once again, YES! We had no idea how amazing it would be. It did have the requisite number of Jesus pics, since it was the Renaissance, you know, but, it also houses original drawings of Da Vinci inventions and the cartoon for the School of Athens by Raphael. Those two alone made it more than worth the visit. It won’t surprise you to know that the building itself is spectacular.

From there, we had a serviceable lunch (the restaurant offered “pizza americano,” whose ingredients were mozzarella, tomato and French fries (No! I didn’t order it…I did think about it…maybe next time…)) and then headed to La Scala. I enjoyed the performance of the ballet Jewels more than Steven did (once again, low bar), but we both loved the music (conducted by Paul Connelly!). Jewels, created by George Balanchine, has three related movements (Emeralds, Rubies, and Diamonds) with music by three different composers (Gabriel Fauré, Igor Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky).

I thought people who go to La Scala would be classy, but they were just as eager to take flash photos during the performance as any other group. Oh well. I finally gave in and took a few of the curtain calls (after all, the performance was over and I was about the only one who wasn’t).

Castello Sforzesco

Afterwards, we met Paul and strolled through Milano because he wanted to show us the Castello Sforzesco, a medeival fortress built in the 15th century that is now a museum. Inside is Michaelangelo’s last and unfinished sculpture and, of course, there’s a room decorated by Da Vinci. We wanted to see it, but we were running short on time. One truism of travel, even our style of travel, is that you can’t do everything. At least we got to see the outside. We completed our trip with the walk back to the train station for the three-hour ride back to Rome. We arrived home at 10 p.m., tired but happy.

Join a Gym …

Well, it doesn’t have to be a gym, but get yourself into the world of people who really live where you’re hanging out. In Guadalajara, we did yoga and learned some Spanish along the way. We also learned that Mexicans are helpful and friendly.

Monday, we signed up at a gym, Rabbit Sport Center, (and, no, I didn’t translate that) in our neighborhood in Rome. How bad did we feel when the front-desk person repeatedly apologized to us because his English isn’t good?!?! We intended to go in Tuesday but … we may have slept until 10:15. Oops. Delayed jetlag or just old people doing too much in one week? Whatever. On Wednesday, we met our new trainer, Antonio, who speaks English or at least enough English. (at least enough to torture us!)

We got two really important things out of our first day:

  • We can count to 12 in Italian!
  • We now know how out of shape we really are.

We are sore, but we did go back today. We have to make up for living around the corner from Pasticceria Tiramisù plus Italian bread, pasta, and cheese.

We are starting to feel like we live here after a wonderful week with David and Stacey. The downside to that is we aren’t playing tourist except for weekends. Life is tough.

Friday Death March

Friday, we decided to head to Trastevere, a neighborhood not far from us, but difficult to get to by train. It was death march time! The southernmost hill of Rome is nearby and offers views of the entire city. We did our usual and marched up and were not disappointed (But we – or at least I – was in pain). There’s also the Finnish embassy and a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, hero of Italian unification, plus a gravel walkway with the busts of soldiers who fought with Garibaldi. Sad to say, in a battle between those known warriors of the world, the French and Italians, the French won the day and Garibaldi and his soldiers’ efforts to protect Rome were in vain.

Garibaldi

We then headed down into the neighborhood of Trastavere, and after a detour to see an overturned Mercedes (roof still intact), we made it. We are jaded, I have to say. Trendy neighborhoods are full of restaurants and tourist shops. That’s fine, but not that exciting to us, there’s a sameness to all of them. Instead, we crossed the Tiber and did what we do best: wandered aimlessly and discovered the beauty of Rome. Everywhere we turned there was an amazing sculpture or an ancient column in a tiny piazza. Now I get why people love Rome! We walked about 7 miles and took in the winding cobblestones and incredible architecture. We sat and had a cafe in a piazza where children were running around after school and just enjoyed people watching. Then, we headed back to our neck of the woods where we had wine at a local wine shop and bar, Vineria Beva Boccea. The waiter was very kind with our lack of Italian and recommended some delicious reds. Finally, we ended the day with Japanese food at Umi Sushi. I know, but we will still eat plenty of pasta.

We have noticed that while Mexicans go for straight 1980s American hair band music, the Italians seem to like their American music with a twist — a very slow twist. They turn it into elevator music with that slow jazz background. Everything from Toto to Madonna to Michael Jackson slowed to half speed with a drum machine. It’s pretty amusing.

Funny aside: Someone in Florence accidentally Airdropped me a bunch of photos. They are all portraits of one man. People: Be careful who you Airdrop. I won’t publish the pics, but someone else might have.

Frida Kahlo is everywhere

Our first major encounter with Frida Kahlo was, oddly, in Istanbul. What is the artist and feminist’s connection to Istanbul? We tried to find out, and guess what? She doesn’t have one! But posters, T-shirts (including one with her wearing a Daft Punk T-shirt of her own), phone cases, you name it, her image was on it. Everywhere were turned, there she was. She also is the subject of one of the many immersive artist experiences traveling around the world. Hers will be in Chicago, but alas, not while we are there.

Less strange was all the Frida merch in Mexico. A beautiful 150-foot mural by Irish street artist Fin DAC graces a building on Chapultepec in Guadalajara. Fin DAC painted the mural over 11 days in July (the month of Frida’s birth and death) 2019. The work is called “Madgalena,” after Frida’s full name: Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón.

Of course, she’s all over Mexico City and we could not pass up a chance to go to Casa Azul, or the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacán. This is the home where she lived her entire life and in addition to her art, you can see her home’s furnishings and the beautiful courtyard. We accidentally had another Dead Person Bingo session, too, since we didn’t realize until we saw the urn that Frida’s ashes sit on the dresser in her bedroom. Sorry, I didn’t take a picture. If you happen to be in Mexico City and want to head to the museum, get tickets in advance. They are timed for every 15 minutes and they are booked. Plus they don’t sell them at her home, as several disappointed people found out. If you’re looking for Frida bling, there’s plenty of it to buy on the street, which I am sure you assumed.

You probably know that she married Diego Rivera, Mexico’s second most famous artist, twice. He also has some murals and paintings you might want to see if you’re in Mexico. Diego painted the world around him, while Frida’s most famous and most common subject was herself as she explored identity, the body, and death. Unsurprising themes considering her attachment to a womanizer and her body’s failings due to polio and a bus accident.

Just a few blocks from La Casa Azul is another home turned museum, that of Leon Trotsky. Frida, Diego, and Leon were well acquainted. Trotsky is buried at this home, where he was assassinated in 1940 after being exiled by Stalin. Luckily, I did take a picture of his gravestone. His second wife, Natalia Sedova, is buried there with him although she outlived him by 22 years (A two-fer in our Dead Person Bingo game!).

You would think that we were done with Frida sightings when we left Mexico and headed to New York, but you’d be wrong. Here she is interpreted by Lady JDay in New York on the front of the Ridge Hotel at 151 E. Houston.

One last Friday encounter: the movie was one of the options on the plane during our flight to Rome, where we are now.

Having seen this article, I realize I am late to the game, but better late than never.

CDMX, parte dos

Steven gave you the roundup of all that we did in our short jaunt to Mexico City, but I want to do a deeper dive.

First, the Museo Nacional de Antropología cannot be seen in a day, especially if you are an American who grew up in a time when Latin American history just did not appear in the curriculum (unless you count how we took parts of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah in the Treaty of Hidalgo). Mexican history is rich with many ancient cultures who interacted and overlapped in ways I was completely ignorant of. One of the joys of travel is my ever-expanding view of history and the interrelationships among peoples, innovations, and beliefs.

The museum focuses on Mexico’s pre-Columbian history and houses the famous sun stone, aka Aztec calendar stone. We arrived soon after it opened at 10 a.m. and spent a couple of hours there. Maybe we saw a quarter of the museum. It was a lot to absorb; having gone to the pyramids at Teotihuacan helped. The museum is in Bosque de Chapultepec, which is kind of like Central Park. Definitely worth a trip on its own.

The interior of the building itself is worth visiting. The courtyard features a continuous waterfall over a massive stone column (see top right below). I also loved the rich ochers and oranges used as background for the archeological artifacts. We were both at our limit when we decided we were hungry and it was time to head out. When we were leaving, the line was much longer. I’d get there early if you plan to visit. Plus, maybe you’ll have more stamina than we did and you will get to see more. Don’t forget that here, before you enter any public building, someone takes your temperature, gives you hand sanitizer and, in this case, sprays you with Covid killer. At least I hope that’s what it was.

Since I mentioned Teotihuacan (As an aside: Is every place a UNESCO heritage site now or are we just prone to visiting places worth preserving?), I’ll backtrack to that. Steven had seen pyramids before, but I had never. The sophistication of the society is what really impressed me. Of course, the technological feat in a time with no wheel is nothing to shake a stick at. The unnamed people (one theory is that they were Toltecs, but others dispute that) built a small structure and then built over it to expand it, using the interior structure for support. From the first through seventh centuries, they created a huge city with apartment complexes, administrative buildings and worship sites. (On the other hand, the civilization also sacrificed animals and children to keep the sun shining [which clearly worked because it was beautiful and sunny – our friends in Chicago should take note] ). And then, at some point, they abandoned it all, reasons unknown, and left it for the Aztecs to discover and name the city Teotihuacan, which means “the place where men become gods” in Nahuatl.

I used a picture of us just so you believe we were really there. Also, you can’t see it really well, but the Pyramid of the Moon, which we are standing in front of and also appears in a photo without us, has misaligned steps. That didn’t happen when it was built. The archeologists restoring it messed up.

The three large pyramids (Sun, Moon and Feathered Serpent) are connected by the Avenue of the Dead, which runs north-south for more than 1.5 miles. The city extended to the surrounding mountains. Try to imagine the whole city covered in murals and colorfully painted walls. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions meant we couldn’t climb the pyramids (Steven and our guide, Ivan, seemed a little too happy about that) or enter certain areas, but just being there was incredible. Speaking of Ivan, I highly recommend a tour, first, because it’s about an hour drive with Mexico City traffic and, second, because it’s a lot more interesting when you know what you’re looking at. He’ll even let you skip the tourist trap stuff if you want to, because there’s definitely tourist trap stuff (and Frida Kahlo, but more on her in another blog).

Super Bowl — GDL Style

Yes, we’re wandering, but we’re still Americans, so Sunday was Super Bowl. We didn’t really have any skin in the game, but we live on a street full of places to get cheap beer and watch sports soooo. Sunday evening we marched all the way around the corner to Veintiuno, which, if you have any knowledge of Spanish, you know means 21. Yes, all (well, most) of the beer is 21 pesos. In my limited knowledge of Spanish, I misunderstood the host. I thought she was saying that there were specials if you bought a bottle of tequila or 12 beers. I was sadly mistaken. Once we were seated, we realized that that was the minimum purchase to sit and watch the game!

So, 12 Tecates later … No, I’m joking. We did buy 12 beers for a whopping 12 US dollars. We figured we would give some of them away if our friends didn’t make it, they did but only after much chagrin trying to find Covid vaccine proof. Apparently, the one Tapatío (that’s a native GDLer) had never been asked for vaccine proof before. We have been asked a a bunch of times when we enter places that are mostly bars. As we’ve said before, pretty much every place checks your temperature and makes you apply hand sanitizer (boy, are my hands dry. If I didn’t look like an old woman before, my hands give me away now) (I will confirm that it is only the hands that give away…). As another aside, I forgot to mention that when we went to Lucha Libre, they literally sprayed us down with sanitizer. We even had to pirouette so they didn’t miss a spot.

This week, three noteworthy events happened:

  • There was a protest at the Glorieta (aka roundabout, aka rotary, aka traffic circle, aka roun-point) de los Niños Héroes in which the protesters lined up and blocked all the entire circle. Traffic was backed up and honking in five directions. Yes, Tapatíos, like New Yorkers, love their horns. The protest was peaceful and organized and the police let it go on for 15 minutes before making them move. The drivers were not pleased, but nothing untoward occurred.
  • I heard loud talking and music, which seemed odd as we are on the 14th floor. I glanced out the window a few times before I saw a foot in the window. A group of men were hanging by ropes outside the building. They were patching and painting. It looked less than safe (just like the day we were walking down the street and a man was soldering something (it looked like some official metal box) without any protection or even a cone to warn pedestrians. One of the men asked if he could use our balcony, so he moved the plants and furniture out of the way and his team proceed to hoist him the rest of the way up the building. Did I mention it was windy yesterday?
  • It rained! Well, some drops fell from the sky for maybe 5-10 minutes.

The Glorieta de los Niños Héroes is technically a monument to six soldiers lost in the Battle of Chapultepec between Mexico and the United States. If you’re wondering why Sept. 13 is a more important date to Mexicans than May 5, this is it. The US, which was massively better manned (yes, they were all men) won and took Chapultepec Castle, which sits on a hill just outside Mexico City. The six cadets jumped to their deaths to avoid capture.

Today, the monument is known as the Glorieta de los y las desaparecidos (the roundabout of the disappeared) and symbolizes all the missing people of Jalisco. According to news reports, that number is almost 16,000, some missing for more than a decade, and the protesters, who numbered between 100-200, are frustrated with the lack of progress and resources available to identify bodies or to look for those who are unaccounted for and that there have been only 10 convictions. The protesters marched down Avenida Chapultepec (we live at the end of the road overlooking the monument), which has a large pedestrian median, before blocking traffic into the glorieta (You can see them blocking the entrances in the second photo). They then read out the names of many of the missing.

The monument (credit top photo: De Pancho GDL – Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72740376) and the protest.