Lisbon, Portugal – Walkabout

Florist shop
Florist shop

Lisbon is described as a safe harbor – one of the remaining havens in Europe for sophisticated culture and relaxation in a time of tourist destinations. This time of year anyway, there are no parking lots full of tour buses, and reservations are easy to get or not needed. Walking miles each day around the city’s steep and often narrow streets has been a delight. Day and night we have felt very comfortable and safe exploring.

Saturday and the laundry is drying.
Saturday and the laundry is drying.

Few places in the world can pride themselves on maintaining the tradition and artistic use of tiles. Each group of “azulejos” (from the Arab word azzelij meaning small polished stone), as they are called in Portuguese, tell a story or portray a tradition. They are used to decorate interiors, whole facades of buildings, churches, and streets.

Tiles decorate an antique book store.

Trams and tiles_new

Bronze sculpture of Portugal’s famous writer and poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935).
Bronze sculpture of Portugal’s famous writer and poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935).
Famous cafe ‘A Brasileira’ in Chiado where Pessoa’s sculpture lives out on the terrace.
Famous cafe ‘A Brasileira’ in Chiado where Pessoa’s sculpture lives out on the terrace.

The best way to travel is to feel’ Pessoa wrote, ‘so feel everything in every possible way.’ Pessoa was born in Lisbon in 1888. The story is that apart from his high school years, which he spent in South Africa, he lived in Lisbon without a break, without taking public holidays, without traveling abroad. Instead inventing many lives (and cities) out of his own. Pessoa spent a lot of his time in cafes, where he wrote and drank a lot . He died in 1935, aged 47.

Window pots_new
City window garden.
Pedestrian friendly area near our hotel - Brown's Downtown.
Pedestrian friendly area near our hotel – Brown’s Downtown.
Aqueduct_new
Portion of aqueduct with a tile fresco.
Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum’s cool facade.
Tram ride anyone?
Tram ride anyone?

Strolling back to our hotel after dinner we come across the lookout that evaded us during the day… in the distance is the Castelo de Sao Jorge – tomorrow’s destination.

Night lookout_new

Castle at night_new

We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”     ~ Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

You may enjoy our other posts on Lisbon:

Lisbon, Portugal – Arrival/Chegada
Lisbon, Portugal – Mercado da Ribeira

Lisbon’s Rua Nova do Carvalho was cited in a New York Times travel article – Favorite Streets in 12 European Cities. Closed to traffic, painted a cheerful shade of pink it is Lisbon’s most bustling new party strip… and it is near our one of our favorite food markets – Mercado da Ribeira.

Lisbon, Portugal – Mercado da Ribeira

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

Mercado da Ribeira (market near the river) is a Lisbon treasure, and the city’s largest open food market. Housed in a beautiful building topped with a Moorish-style dome, the food market sells everything from inky octopus and fresh seafood to fresh fruit, and funeral flowers. But, beginning in May 2014 the gastronomical area opened, representing the best restaurants and chefs of Lisbon. The area has about 30 spaces for food vendors and seating for around 750 in the center area. Being foodies and on vacation, this was the focus of our attention… thanks for the tasty tip Lisa and Jeff!

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

The idea is brilliant: you grab the food and drinks from one or several restaurants of your choice (can be different than your family and friends), and find a seat in the food area where you’ll be able to interact with everyone there.

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

Spit roasted pork belly immediately caught our eye, as did the salads from another booth…

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

With delicious results…

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

And still room for a sweet or two from Arcadia…

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

We visited a second time on a Saturday night and the food area was overflowing. Seats were full, the most popular stands had lines and the atmosphere was dynamic. Having already eaten dinner, we tried some chocolate cake and stood at the end of a bar-like table. Conversation started flowing when one of the guys heard we were from Seattle – he had seen the recent Seahawks game leading up to to the Superbowl, and was very excited to compare notes with Americans, and Washingtonians at that! Turns out he and his friends are from Iceland, and two of his buddies are competing in the European Open Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Gotta love travel!

The Lisbon Connection is a great resource for travelers in Lisbon with articles and reviews on just about anything having to do with the city. Check it out next time you are traveling to Lisbon. Their article on Cervejaria ‘Ramiro‘ prompted us to check out this very popular seafood restaurant. Serving superb fresh seafood at a really good price, it’s always crowded with tables full of locals, all having a great time. The atmosphere is loud and exciting.

Cervejaria Ramiro
Cervejaria Ramiro
Sampling the seafood at Cervejaria Ramiro
Sampling the seafood at Cervejaria Ramiro

You may also enjoy our other posts on Lisbon:
Lisbon, Portugal – Arrival/Chegada
Lisbon, Portugal – Walkabout

Lisbon’s Rua Nova do Carvalho was cited in a New York Times travel article – Favorite Streets in 12 European Cities. Closed to traffic, painted a cheerful shade of pink it is Lisbon’s most bustling new party strip… and it is just a few blocks from Mercado da Ribeira.

Lisbon, Portugal – Arrival/Chegada

From a spectacular sunrise in Vancouver, BC to a cold and gray Frankfurt morning, to a mild but drizzly day in Lisbon, Portugal… we have traveled far over the last 24 hours. Energized from the excitement of our arrival in Lisbon, the adventure begins as we take the City Centre bus #1 to our hotel – Brown’s Downtown. Making our way to the Rossio stop, Jay writes, “the neighborhoods pass, like waves, each with their own character and pulse – palm trees, cars parked on cobblestone sidewalks, ancient tiled facades, monuments at many intersections.” We sense the history and grandeur of Lisbon.

Arco da Rua Augusta, Lisbon, Portugal
Arco da Rua Augusta, Lisbon

After a siesta and consult with the friendly and helpful hotel staff, we head out for the evening with a loose walking plan and a destination for dinner.

Church on Rue da Alfandega, Lisbon, Portugal
Church on Rue da Alfandega, Lisbon
Populi Caffe, Lisbon, Portugal
Arriving in the square, Populi Caffe in the far corner.
Populi Caffe and Restaurant floor tiles, Lisbon, Portugal
Populi Caffe and Restaurant floor tiles.

Recommended by our hotel concierge, Populi is a short walk away, and very welcoming as we approach it across the square. Beginning with glasses of red wine from the Douro region of Portugal (graceful, with notes of black cherry), and a burlap sack of focaccia and peasant bread we settle right in. Roban, our waiter, guides us through the menu and we enjoy his friendly conversation. After a plate of charcuteries, Jay has a very nicely cooked and tasty duck risotto with fresh rosemary & thyme. I enjoy lighter fare, a bowl of the traditional sausage, potato and kale soup… potatoes pureed into the broth with little chunks of sausage and a chiffonade of kale – perfectly executed.

Populi Caffe and Restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal
Art and sculpture in the Populi Caffe and Restaurant.

At the end of the meal, Roban brings us complimentary glasses of Ginjinha – a delicious Portuguese sour cherry-infused liqueur – popular in Lisbon.

Populi Caffe and; Restaurant, Lisbon, Portugal
View from the balcony
Populi Caffe and Restaurant, Lisbon, Portugal
Sophisticated interior of Populi.

Wandering back to the hotel after dinner, enjoying the fresh air and quiet energy of the city, a sliver of moon appears as we round the corner.

Moon in Lisbon, Portugal

You may also enjoy our other posts on Lisbon:
Lisbon, Portugal – Mercado da Ribeira
Lisbon, Portugal – Walkabout

The Longest Road – Florida to Alaska

The Longest Road by Philip CaputoFeeling nostalgic this morning as I read rave reviews about a new road book in the NY Times…

Two years ago we converted our Honda CRV into a camper van and drove round-trip from Washington State to Maryland. Taking a northern route out and southern path home. Read about our adventures here:  US Cross Country Road Trip.

Back to the new book:  “The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, From Key West to the Arctic Ocean” by Philip Caputo. Mr. Caputo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and his book chronicles his trip in an Airstream trailer from one corner of North America to the other, asking everyday Americans what unites and divides a country as endlessly diverse as it is large. From his publisher:

“Standing on a wind-scoured island off the Alaskan coast, Philip Caputo marveled that its Inupiat Eskimo schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the same flag as the children of Cuban immigrants in Key West, six thousand miles away. And a question began to take shape: How does the United States, peopled by every race on earth, remain united? Caputo resolved that one day he’d drive from the nation’s southernmost point to the northernmost point reachable by road, talking to everyday Americans about their lives and asking how they would answer his question.

So it was that in 2011, in an America more divided than in living memory, Caputo, his wife, and their two English setters made their way in a truck and classic trailer (hereafter known as “Fred” and “Ethel”) from Key West, Florida, to Deadhorse, Alaska, covering 16,000 miles. He spoke to everyone from a West Virginia couple saving souls to a Native American shaman and taco entrepreneur. What he found is a story that will entertain and inspire readers as much as it informs them about the state of today’s United States, the glue that holds us all together, and the conflicts that could cause us to pull apart.”

Recently, Mr. Caputo traveled to Missouri for a conversation with one of America’s most acclaimed travel writers, William Least Heat-Moon, the author of “Blue Highways” and “PrairyErth (A Deep Map).” Heat-Moon’s latest book is “Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories From the Road”, a collection of short essays taken from 30-plus years of travel. They had a wide-ranging conversation, covering their many years of travel. The New York Times published a condensed and edited version:  To See America, Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist.

Here is a taste of their conversation:

CAPUTO: One of the things that’s impressed me about traveling in this country — and I’ve done a lot of world traveling, as you have, too — is not only the size of the country but the variety of the landscape, which is like nothing I have ever seen anywhere else. I mean you can be in Arizona or New Mexico and think you’re in North Africa, and not terribly far away it might look like the Swiss Alps, and someplace else — say, the Dakotas — looks like Ukraine.

HEAT-MOON: American topography is so incredibly diverse. If you’re traveling by auto, the windshield becomes a kind of movie. And we’re going to go out on the road, and we’re going to meet people who don’t think the way we do. And listen to someone who doesn’t think the way we do, we may learn something that could be useful, as well as something downright interesting.

CAPUTO: Yeah, I think one of the things I got out of this particular journey was running into people who will change your perspective, who will change the way you looked at things. And sometimes I think not just for the moment either, but permanently. And I think you’re right, that the country is big enough and varied enough, not only in its geographical landscape but its social landscape, that if I do travel to northwest Washington from southeast Georgia, or vice versa, I’m not going to run into somebody who thinks exactly the way I do and sees the world the same as I do.

Time to hit the road… well, maybe not until the house renovation is a little further along…

The Quiet Traveler

The page of notes I created in my journal.

I am an introvert. Recently completing the Myers-Briggs personality test confirmed my thoughts, and reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking deepened my understanding.

The terms “introvert” and “extrovert” were first made popular by psychologist Carl Jung in the 1920s and then later by the Myers-Briggs personality test. Cain defines introverts as those who prefer less stimulating environments and tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk and think before they speak. At the other end of the spectrum, extroverts are energized by social situations and tend to be assertive multi-taskers who think out loud and on their feet.

Everyone spends some time extraverting and some time introverting. Don’t confuse Introversion with shyness or reclusiveness. They are not related (Myers & Briggs Foundation). Viewing these terms as opposite ends of the spectrum it makes sense that many of us spend time somewhere in between. I may spend more time on the introversion side but I can enjoy a good party and the overall high energy… I just do it my way, by spending more time with people having one-on-one conversations.

So how does being an introvert relate to my love of travel…

Flying solo for me is all about solitary time. I like to sit on the aisle where I feel there is some breathing space, and where I can get up without bothering anyone. Reading material, journal, things to do are always in my carry-on bag.

Road trips are a favorite of mine. Jay and I love having the time together without distractions. Often I drive and he reads to me, or we listen to a book on tape together. We talk, take turns napping, listen to music, research where we will stay and eat as we approach our destination.

Lately, we find ourselves choosing to spend more time in one place. Last January we spent a month in San Miguel de Allende. Experiencing the breadth of the city and all the various activities that go on there.

Slow travel, like slow food, gives us time to savor and process at a comfortable pace.

Another favorite book of mine is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s bestseller FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. His comment on the book Quiet ~ Finally someone has exposed the feet of clay of the extraversion industry. It is a wonder it took so long. Those who value a quiet, reflective life will feel a burden lifting from their shoulders as they read Susan Cain’s eloquent and well documented paean to introversion — and will no longer feel guilty or inferior for having made the better choice!

As Mahatma Ghandi said,  In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

Victoria, British Columbia: Restaurants, cafes and bakeries

In autumn Vancouver Island abounds with heirloom tomatoes, pears, apples, plums, exotic squash, pumpkins, wild mushrooms…

Restaurants

The Fairmont Empress Hotel

Bengal Lounge ~ Fairmont Empress Hotel (721 Government Street). Drawing inspiration from Queen Victoria’s role as the Empress of India, this colonial style lounge is known throughout Victoria for its authentic curry buffet and signature cocktail menu. Frequented by residents and visitors alike, the lounge offers a delicious curry lunch and dinner buffet, an international à la carte menu, and signature cocktail and martini drinks. On the evening we dine, the Indian buffets tempts us with butter chicken, tandoori chicken, lamb stew, basmati rice, paprika onions, mango chutney, cilantro green sauce, pappadoms, and a cardamom crème brûlée for dessert. This authentic buffet is delicious with many gluten-free options.

Camille’s~ Located in Bastion Square, in the heart of Old Town Victoria; Local Food Restaurant Of The Year 2012. Camille’s is nestled into the cozy nooks of an 1898 heritage building giving the restaurant a lovely combination of fine dining in a comfortable, casual atmosphere. The menu is diverse, seasonal and changes daily. The evening we visit, several entrees are prepared sous-vide. I choose the flank steak stuffed with sausage and Jay has line caught ling cod with a tarragon mouse and crumbles of dried chorizo. Both are delectable – cooked perfectly and moist. Camille’s is a restaurant at the top of its game. (Sous-vide is a culinary technique in which vacuum-sealed food is immersed in a water bath and cooked at a very precise, consistent low temperature for longer periods of time.)

Cafe Brio ~ 944 Fort Street. An old favorite that we return to each visit to Victoria. Tonight we begin with a homemade pâté with pistachios, lamb salami, and an olive stuffed with meat and fried. On this cool, damp night I settle on the venison loin with red wine, cabbage, apples, and a pear with cacao nibs. Jay hones in on the succulent lamb shoulder steak with braised fennel, heirloom tomatoes, and cannelli beans. Very full, but still sipping a little red wine we end with two homemade chocolate truffles. Glorious… thank goodness we are walking back to our hotel.

Brasserie L’Ecole ~ 1715 Government Street. A Brasserie is “an unpretentious restaurant that serves drinks, especially beer, and simple or hearty food“. This definition parallels Brasserie L’école classic French bistro/brasserie design and nightly changing menu. This time of year you can enjoy Mussels & frites, Sooke trout, Roasted chicken with chanterelle, Steak & frites… The name “l’école is a nod to the history of the building, which once was a Chinese Schoolhouse. They don’t take reservations so plan to arrive a bit before they open.

Red fish Blue fish ~ 1006 Wharf Street (at the foot of Broughton on the pier). This funky seaside fish shack is an outdoor waterfront eatery in an up-cycled cargo container on a wooden pier in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. It’s a unique, fresh, and sustainable approach to the old fish ‘n’ chip shop. There is always a line and we jump right in, ordering a BBQ wild salmon tacone with spicy spot prawn mayo, and a Seafood Poutine (local shrimp + smoked tuna belly bacon bits + crispy shallots & miso-clam gravy) with Kennebec Chips. Top notch food and a fun waterfront experience. Closed November, December & January.

Rebar Modern Food ~ 50 Bastion Square. Since 1988, Rebar Modern Food has been Victoria’s favorite restaurant and juice bar, featuring fresh, healthy, predominantly vegetarian fare. We stepped in for a late morning meal. My decaf mocha made with almond milk was delicious; my scrambled eggs okay. Jay dug his Miso soup and Blue bridge fruit drink (blueberry, apple and grapefruit juices). The Rebar Modern Food Cookbook is popular with vegans, vegetarians, and anyone looking for delicious ideas with a funky twist.

Tre Fantastico ~ Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa, 810 Humboldt Street. Born from a passion for ale, wine & coffee, and featuring great food accompaniments & light meals using house-made products and local food. We don’t usually eat in the hotel, but this café is an exception… great coffee, and our favorite breakfast becomes Poached Eggs & Beans: 2 Kalamoon Farm Eggs served over Spiced White Cannellini Beans with Double-Smoked Bacon. We notice the Housemade Granola with pecans, pumpkin seeds, raisins, natural yogurt & rhubarb compote is very popular…

Murchies Tea & Coffee ~ 1110 Government Street. John Murchie immigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1894 and founded Murchie’s Tea & Coffee. Today the downtown location is a vibrant tea room, bakery, coffee shop and retail store. Seeking respite from the cold we duck into Murchies for another yummy almond milk mocha, hazelnut hot cocoa, and warm slice of their flourless chocolate cake. YUM.

Santé Gluten-Free Café ~ 2630A Quadra Street. Victoria’s first dedicated gluten-free café. Santé accommodates dairy-free, soy-free, low/no sugar and almost any other sensitivity. Desserts, muffins, and other baked goods are created daily. We pick up a grilled chicken wrap and a breakfast wrap to go which are yummy. The menu also includes a Paleo section, a soup du jour, Quiche, pizza, lasagna and salads.

Origin Bakery (Gluten-free)
Origin opened its doors in March 2010 to become the first bakery in Victoria to offer exclusively gluten-free baked goods! It all started when two friends, Tara Black and Marion Neuhauser, realized that their friends with dietary restrictions were having a hard time finding tasty wheat-free baking. “Our use of high quality, natural ingredients (many are local and/or organic), along with our discerning sense of taste, ensures we provide baking that everyone – gluten intolerant or not – can love. Since we only use gluten-free ingredients, we can make sure there is no gluten contamination, so go ahead and enjoy without worry!” We didn’t get to indulge this trip, but will next visit.

Camille's welcoming entry.

Ireland in September

Photos from Bruni's Article: To Ireland, a Son’s Journey Home (collage courtesy of NY Times)

Those of us who read the New York Times know Frank Bruni as an Op-Ed columnist; I had forgotten he was the restaurant critic of The Times from June 2004 to August 2009. Enjoy this thoughtful salute to his mother and musings on Ireland as he travels the country by car…

I went in mid-September, and I went mostly, truth be told, because it promised spectacular scenery, bountiful seafood and an infinity of pubs, which my traveling partner, Tom, was especially excited about. We covered as much of the country as we could in a week’s time, dipping into Cork as well as Dublin, logging over 700 road miles, lounging beside a lake in the southwest and ambling along a creek in the northwest.

But I also went for a sort of communion with, and investigation of, Mom, who died almost 16 years ago. It was like an adult version of that classic children’s book “Are You My Mother?” except that I wasn’t a lost bird asking a kitten, a dog, a boat. I was a grown man asking a country.

Link to the full article…  To Ireland, a Son’s Journey Home

Ireland has assumed a central place in poetry readers minds, due to Nobel Prize-winning poets, W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, and 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner, Paul Muldoon. Doing a little research for this article brought forth Dennis O’Driscoll. Well known in Ireland and Britain, it seems he is not widely read in the U.S. but considered by some one of the most interesting poets writing in English. I leave you with the first section of his poem – Weather Permitting.

Weather Permitting
by Dennis O’Driscoll

The August day you wake to takes you by surprise.
Its bitterness. Black sullen clouds. Brackish downpour.
A drift-net of wetness enmeshes the rented cottage,
towels and children’s swimwear sodden on the line.

Dry-gulleted drains gulp down neat rain.
Drops bounce from a leaking gutter with hard,
uncompromising slaps: and, like resignation
in the face of death, you contemplate winter

with something close to tenderness, the sprint
from fuel shed to back door, the leisurely
ascent of peat smoke, even the suburban haze
of boiler flues when thermostats are set.

You warm to those thoughts as you sit there,
brainstorming ways to keep the family amused,
plans abandoned for barefoot games on dry sand.
Handcraft shops? Slot-machine arcades? Hotel grills?

In truth – manipulating toast crumbs backwards,
forwards at the unsteady table’s edge – you’d prefer
to return to your bed as if with some mild
ailment, pampered by duvet, whiskey, cloves.

Sláinte mhaith (good health)

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Rich fall colors of Virginia creeper.

Off to Victoria, British Columbia, for three nights to escape phones, computers and all the trimmings that come with working at home. The reality of our sweet retreat sinks in as we park in the ferry lane and seek warmth from our fleece blanket on this crisp autumn morning.

We plan to walk everywhere, exploring Victoria on foot – visually soaking in  the rich fall colors and feasting on the bounty of foods from the farmer’s fall harvest. A poetic time of year, Keats called the autumn – “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. While Albert Camus felt “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”.

Later in the morning the sun is shining brightly as the Washington State ferry (from Friday Harbor, WA to Sidney, BC) glides smoothly across the glassy water. Soon the ferry is passing the mostly barren side of  Spieden Island with its randomly placed ice age boulders. In the early 1960′s the actor, John Wayne, and his business partners imported big game animals here. Their vision was to have a private island for their sport game and hunting hobby. Fortunately, the idea was short-lived and today the forested north side of the island is home to hundreds of European Sika deer, Asian Fallow deer and Corsican Big Horn sheep.

Passing by Spieden Island on the ferry.

About 75 minutes after departing the San Juan Islands we are slowing for our landing in the port of Sidney, British Columbia. Located at the northern end of the Saanich Peninsula, on Vancouver Island, Sidney is a popular eco-tourist destination, with whale-watching, bird-watching, kayaking and scuba-diving… and a 2o minute drive from Victoria.

Not sure when we last visited Victoria, maybe 6 years ago? In preparation for our trip, and open to the mystery and savings of booking our lodging on Hotwire, I visited their website. After providing the details of our trip (dates of stay, area we want to stay in, how many people) Hotwire provides a list of available hotels in that area with the star rating. The mystery is that Hotwire will only show you the name of the hotel after you have paid for the booking. I prefer 3.5 stars or better, and have read that Hotwire gives the most savings if you use it to book hotels that are better than 3.5 stars (three stars or lower and the savings become small, so you are better booking through the hotel itself). Important note:  Hotwire does not refund, so you want to be pretty sure you will be there!

Atrium entrance to the Parkside Resort & Spa.

I choose a four star hotel for $80 a night, and am very pleased when Hotwire reveals that we have selected Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa. Situated just one block from the Victoria Conference Center and two blocks from the Inner Harbor, the location is perfect for us – we can walk everywhere and enjoy the quiet that sets in just a few blocks from the downtown. Designed, built, and furnished with sustainable development in mind, it is Canada’s first resort hotel built to LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)  standards. The grey, charcoal and earth tone palette throughout the hotel helps bring the beauty of the West Coast outdoors inside, and creates a peaceful and calm environment. We thoroughly enjoy our three nights stay in the one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette, and balcony overlooking the interior plant-filled atrium.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria, BC.

Elegant Victoria retains “a bit of Old England” with its beautiful gardens and historic buildings. Named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and of the Dominion of Canada, Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1841.

Blue skies shine through a building façade being saved (and decorated) during renovation.
Fairmont Empress Hotel bee hives.

Overlooking the inner harbor, the Fairmont Empress Hotel is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in the city. On May 26, 2011, the hotel welcomed the Queen Bee and 400,000 honeybees. The bees now live in the Centennial Garden of The Fairmont Empress and will pollinate Victoria’s hotel gardens. In total, ten hives of  European bees will produce over 1,000 pounds of honey which will be featured in the hotel’s restaurants, including world-renowned Afternoon Tea service.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia – “Although the archaeological record is still incomplete, it is clear that native people have occupied Vancouver Island for several thousand years. A tribal village society evolved with an economy based on fishing, collecting and hunting. The abundant marine and forest resources along the coasts supported a culture rich in oral tradition and artistic expression. Two main linguistic families, Salishan and Wakashan, developed and continue to exist“.

The Victoria, BC Conference Center celebrates First Nations artists.
The Gate of Harmonious Interest

In the 1980s, Victoria’s Chinese community entered a period of renewal after a gradual decline over the previous 50 years.  The Gate of Harmonious Interest was constructed at the corner of Government and Fisgard Streets as a monument to recognize and preserve the Chinese heritage in Victoria for everyone. The Gate is a gift from Suzhou, China, one of Victoria’s sister cities.

Glorious red dragon in Chinatown.

If you walk down Fisgard St. towards Wharf St., make sure to keep your eyes open for Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada. The old opium dens, gambling houses and brothels of Fan Tan Alley have now become novelty stores and souvenir shops.

Victoria is known for its strong support of cyclists and pedestrians and there is an extensive system of paths, multi-use regional trails, and cycle lanes on city streets. We spend much of our time walking around the city, along the waterfront path, and in Beacon Hill Park.

Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, BC.
Vibrant hydrangea in Beacon Hill Park.

Beacon Hill Park is located in Victoria along the shore of Juan de Fuca Strait. The 200 acre park was officially established in 1882, after being set aside in 1858 by James Douglas, governor of Vancouver Island. The name derives from a small hill overlooking the Strait, which once held navigational beacons. The hill is culturally significant, having been a burial site for the First Nations Coast Salish people, who are the original inhabitants of the Greater Victoria region. Now it provides scenic vistas of the Strait and the Olympic Mountains of Washington.

The park is beautifully landscaped and manicured with bridges, lakes and ponds, and an alpine and rock garden. It is home to many species of ducks, birds and wildlife. I read that a pair of Bald Eagles nests in one of the huge trees, and a large family of Great Blue Herons also nest in a thicket of Douglas-fir trees at the west end of the park. Enjoyed by tourists and locals, the park has woodland and shoreline trails, two playgrounds, playing fields, a petting zoo, tennis courts, many ponds, and landscaped gardens.

A short walk from Victoria’s Inner Harbor is Fisherman’s Wharf… a floating boardwalk with food, shops and colorful float home community.

Not to miss is a walk around the Victoria Inner Harbor after nightfall. The Parliament Buildings light up the sky and cast a magical spell over the harbor.

Night falls on Victoria's Inner Harbor.

Attractions in and around Victoria:

  • Alcheringa Gallery – Contemporary Indigenous Fine Art of the Northwest coast, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Museum quality aboriginal art.
  • Art Gallery of Greater Victoria – The museum features contemporary exhibition space and a historic 19th-century mansion called Gyppeswick, and features a permanent collection of more than 15,000 objets d’art, drawn from Asia, Europe, North America, Canada and Japan. There is a permanent exhibit on Emily Carr and her contemporaries.
  • Butchart Gardens – Internationally acclaimed gardens created after Robert Butchart exhausted the limestone quarry near his Tod Inlet home, about 14 miles from Victoria. Still in the family, the gardens display more than a million plants throughout the year.
  • Maritime Museum of BC – Enjoy a rich and vast link to the province’s nautical roots. Among a superb array of artifacts, are fascinating displays on Pirates, Heritage Vessels, Shipwrecks and special exhibits.
  • Royal BC Museum – A great regional museum with an incredible showpiece of First Nations art and culture, including a full-size re-creation of a longhouse, and a dramatic gallery with totem poles, masks, and artifacts. The museum has an IMAX theater showing a variety of large-screen movies.
The Alcheringa Gallery on Fort Street in Victoria, BC.

The Best U.S. Beaches

Coronado Beach in San Diego, CA

This is the 22nd year for the Top 10 Best Beaches list, created by Dr. Beach, also known as Stephen Leatherman, director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research in Miami.

Coronado Beach in San Diego won first place this year. It has great sand, the warmest water on the west coast, and the iconic Hotel del Coronado (the backdrop for the Marilyn Monroe movie “Some Like It Hot”). Coronado beach has fine, hard-packed sand which makes it great for beach walking, and the beach is a luxurious 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) long. According to Dr. Beach it is popular for swimmers, surfers, sunbathers and beachcombers –  its flatness makes it awesome for skim boarding, and the minerals in the sand create a silvery sheen.

The top 10 beaches of 2012:

1. Coronado Beach, San Diego, Calif.
2. Kahanamoku Beach, Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii
3. Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.
4. St. George Island State Park, Florida Panhandle
5. Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii
6. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.
7. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii
8. Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Fla.
9. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, S.C.
10. Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks, N.C.

Dr. Beach uses 50 criteria for ranking beach quality along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts. Some of the considerations include sand softness, frequency of rip currents, size of waves, wildlife, water temperature, views and vistas, the presence of oil and tar balls, whether it’s overcrowded, public safety, and well-kept grounds.

Bring along National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Water’s Edge and learn the basic science of shorelines. Read about the three ocean coastlines – Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific; estuaries and wetlands; lakes, including the Great Lakes; and rivers, from the great Mississippi and Columbia to backyard streams. Identification guides and interesting information on plants, animals, shells, and other curiosities to be found along each water’s edge go with photographs and illustrations.

The book’s introductory section provides a thorough overview of the basic science of shorelines: how water interacts with land to form beaches; how various kinds of shorelines formed; why large waves are necessary to form beaches; how floods and fast-moving water alters river shorelines; how the gravitational pull of the moon and sun cause the tides; why the oceans have tides but the Great Lakes don’t; how tides affect rivers far inland; the effects of latitude and climate on the formation of shorelines, including variations in plants and animals.

Have fun and please remember to wear sunscreen.

Travel Journaling ~ Commiting

Try a cartoon or quilt like approach to remembering each day.

On a recent trip to VA, DC and MD I decided to do a quilt or comic strip like approach to recording our journey. A shorter, busier trip, this was my way of capturing the memories.

In Writing Away: A Creative Guide to Awakening the Journal-Writing Traveler by Lavinia Spaulding she writes, “Everyone is capable of great discipline; most of us simply don’t realize it because we’re far more capable of great procrastination”. If you want a rewarding journal experience, you must commit to a schedule.

Getting behind in a travel journal is deadly. We have all been there. The benefit of writing about an experience soon after it occurs is that you maintain the immediacy of your emotions, your senses (the smells, colors, textures, sounds, etc.) in essence – the details. Waiting to write about something can lead to writing that is more general in its description, an overview, or worse, not writing at all. We become overwhelmed, and as Lavinia says, “Soon you’ve passed through too many magical places and befriended too many kindred wanderers to imagine sitting down to record every detail. Where would you even begin?”.

Travel offers a great chance for change. Routines, habits, schedules, responsibilities are left behind. We can be and do whatever we want. And often time is there for the taking – waiting for a plane to load, relaxing on a town square bench, sitting on a train… luxurious moments of solitude, there for us to savor and delight in.

You might start small with comfortable blocks of time. In cultivating the muscle of writing and/or sketching in your journal the important thing is to do it regularly. Daily is best. Maybe 5 minutes a day. Whatever. But open your journal and make a mark. Lavinia suggests opening our journal a few times a day – to jot down an email address, a quote. Her idea is the more we open our journals, the less intimidating and heavy is our association with writing or sketching.

Capturing the highlights of each day kept me connected to my journal.

On our trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico I began by making a note of the day’s highlights each night before bed or first thing in the morning. This kept me connected to my journal and I did it in a spiral to add to the creative element and make it fun. With this simple exercise I opened the door to more involved writing and drawing. Many afternoons found me sitting cross-legged on the bed in our sunny bedroom, relaxing and writing or drawing in my book.

My journal/sketchbook is a little over half full. As corny as this sounds I feel a real sense of pride when I say that. This could be the first book I fill. That is my intent!

For more thoughts from me and Lavinia read my post on Travel Journaling ~ the best journal.

Fredericksburg, Virginia ~ Dining

Foode Restaurant logo, Fredericksburg, VA

This Easter we are up in the air, flying from Seattle, WA to Washington, DC non-stop with Alaska Airlines. Thinking about our food plans, I do some research on restaurants in Fredericksburg, VA, which we will be passing through around dinner time on our drive to Norfolk, VA.

Bistro Bethem rises up as I search. Seasonal modern American cuisine with a Southern accent. Sounds delicious and not formal (we are in comfy casual travel clothes)… oysters on the half shell or fried, wood oven pizzas, creative salads with roasted beets or asparagus, and entrees ranging from a Painted Hill’s all-natural cheeseburger to lamb loin with a coriander-fennel rub. A nice range of choices depending on our appetites. I email to see what there hours are on Easter…

Christopher from Bistro Bethem replies promptly – Thanks so much for thinking of us!  Unfortunately, we will be open for brunch only, from 10am-4pm.  I’m not sure of other restaurant’s holiday hours, but I can recommend Kybecca, Foode, and Poppy Hill.  Hopefully you’ll keep us in mind for the future.

I discover that Easter brunch is popular, and by 6pm his restaurant and all the others will be closed. However, I came away with four good choices for eating in Fredericksburg, VA, so why not share them…

Kybecca Wine Bar & Shop in downtown Fredericksburg began as an eclectic wine shop and soon evolved into a full service wine bar and outdoor café. Here’s what the Washington Post reviewer says about their Sunday brunch – “Sit outside under the bright red awning, sip a glass of chilled prosecco and dig into a plate of slow-braised corned beef hash topped with a poached egg and a drizzle of vinaigrette (one of Kyle’s home recipes). Or try one of the crisp, yeast-risen waffles sprinkled with local berries. Or a crepe filled with spicy, locally made chorizo and scrambled eggs.

The philosophy at FOODE is simple: Joy & Beth believe that the freshest, cleanest ingredients make the best dishes. Joy’s the chef, Beth does everything else. I love their story… We suppose it’s just like every other story that involves two people with a dream: they save up until they can leave their corporate jobs and jump into the great unknown. Our unknown took us from Atlanta, Georgia to the historic district in Fredericksburg, Virginia. So what about the food? The menu changes weekly, they have a children’s menu and a community table. Right now they are having Fried Chicken Wednesdays, and other nights 1/2 of an organic Ashland farms chicken, marinated in herbs and lemon and slow roasted… served with creamy organic farro and mixed field greens from Glenburnie farms. Lots of familiar, comfort foods with attention to good ingredients. Sweets ~ three chocolate chunk cookies, gooey warm from the oven with a chilled glass of organic milk ~ yes!

Poppy Hill Chef Scott Mahar blends his New England sensibility with the lighter sauces, roasted meats and fresh pastas from the Tuscan region of Italy. They prepare each dish from scratch with only the most wholesome, farm fresh ingredients, and all pastas are made on site daily. Flavor Magazine notes: “Offering seasonal items keeps prices at market value and new items on the menu. Patrons flock to the restaurant when pumpkin ravioli in a brown butter sauce with sage makes an appearance in the fall. Sunday-night gravy (which, for the uninitiated, is tomato sauce) made from fresh tomatoes and basil, short ribs, house-made Italian sausage, and meatballs served over Scott’s house-made pasta is also a menu staple”.

So those of you in the Washington Metropolitan area looking for a getaway, head to historic Fredericksburg for a weekend of good food and history… and let me know what you find.

Santa Fe, New Mexico ~ Restaurants, Farmers Market

Tesuque Village Market, Santa Fe
Tesuque Village Market in the Santa Fe area

Deciding where to dine in Santa Fe is serious fun. Our generous hosts, Dorsey & Richard, have sampled all the best local fare and together we have a terrific time experiencing some of the local favorites…

  • Tesuque Village Market, 138 Tesuque Village Road, is a charming market and restaurant about 15 minutes north of Santa Fe. Located under a canopy of cottonwoods at the center of a quaint village, you can dine outside in warm weather or inside where the decor is funky Santa Fe. We visited twice for breakfast, both times enjoying various egg dishes – Huevos Rancheros with blue corn tortillas, Breakfast burritos with chorizo… and as I walked around I saw delicious looking blue corn pancakes and the ultimate french toast made with croissants. Nice sized portions for a reasonable price. Lunch and dinner are also popular, and there’s often a crowd. A kids’ menu is available. (photo above)
  • Tune-Up Cafe, 1115 Hickox St. Owners, Jesus and Charlotte Rivera, offer a comfortable, affordable, fun, and flavorful dining experience. The menu is an eclectic assortment of El Salvadoran (veggie or steak pupusa and banana leaf wrapped tamales), New Mexican (chile relleno, enchiladas, tacos) and American favorites (buffalo burger, flat-iron organic steak). The desserts are house-made by Charlotte – fresh-baked scones for breakfast, decadent peanut butter cookie sandwiches, custard filled cupcakes… Okay, I’m hungry!
Tune-Up Cafe, Santa Fe, NM
Delightfully inviting & delicious Tune-Up Cafe
  • Mucho Gusto Mexican Restaurant, 839 Paseo De Peralta, is another great little neighborhood restaurant where the locals go. One of the favorites is “The Bomb”, their famous chicken breast stuffed with jack cheese, poblano chiles, almonds, sun-dried tomatoes, and then topped with a mushroom chipotle chile cream sauce. Grilled salmon, grilled shrimp specials, moist chicken fajitas… the food is consistently good and not expensive. The sangria and agave wine margaritas get rave reviews.
  • The Shed, 113 East Palace Avenue, is known for their red enchilada plate with red chile… arriving on a piping-hot plate, swimming in a red chile sauce complete with beans and posole. One fan describes it very well, “At The Shed, the cheddar is melted to a creamy, liquid-like texture. Miraculously, the cheese stays that way throughout the entire meal; even as I polished off the last of the beans at the end, the cheese stayed soft and stringy within the sauce. The restaurant uses blue corn tortillas, which retained their texture and sopped up the savory mixture of chile and onions. Little kernels of posole were tender and flavorful. Even the beans, which are usually the most neglected item on a plate, were perfectly cooked—neither grainy nor mushy. Best of all, the red chili sauce was pleasantly spicy with just a touch of the natural sweetness that comes from using the best quality dried red chilies.” The Shed red chile sauce is famous around the world and available to buy online at their website.
  • Paper Dosa, Santa Fe, NM
    Enjoying a dosa and lamb curry at Paper Dosa.

    Paper Dosa, 551 W. Cordova Road, has quickly become a local favorite, serving a south Indian menu heavy on dosas, uttapams, and spicy curries. The interior is inviting, the service is good, and the food is consistently first-rate. Packed on the Sunday night, we opted to sit at the bar. A great first experience as we were able to see the dishes coming out of the kitchen! We began with the Cashew Calamari – calamari sauteed in a cashew nut based curry served with greens – absolutely delicious… then shared a dosa filled with collard greens cooked down in spices with sweet peppers – just as delicious… and a lamb curry made with green cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, bay leaves and peppercorns. If I lived in Santa Fe I would be here every week!

  • Vinaigrette, 709 Don Cubero Alley, a salad bistro that raises the “salad bar” with delicious entrée salads. Their perfectly dressed gourmet salads boast innovative flavor combinations from the savory All Kale Caesar to the sweet Nutty Pear-fessor and balanced Salacho taco salad. It’s healthy comfort food that Chef Wade grows the bulk of on her own ten-acre farm on the historic Cano Acequia in Nambe.
  • Jambo, 2010 Cerrillos Rd, is African/Caribbean cooking at its finest. Chef Ahmed Obo served as chef at the Zia Diner for ten years, and now is treating Santa Fe to the food of his native land, Kenya. His mission is to give “quality ethnic cuisine for a good value,” and that is precisely what he does. His African and Caribbean dishes are authentic and richly flavored. We enjoyed the curried black bean & sweet potato soup, a delicious goat stew, a marinated chicken kabob flavored with cumin, coriander, thyme, garlic, lemongrass, paprika and allspice. Then shared a warm chocolate mocha brownie with vanilla ice cream sprinkled with fragrant cinnamon. Oh my, what sweet memories.
  • The Pantry, 1820 Cerillos Rd., has a diner atmosphere with a busy counter and tables, and is always full of locals and tourists alike. Their breakfast and lunch choices are some of the best you can find in Santa Fe. We enjoyed their red and green chile sauces and chorizo, ordering omelettes with spinach, green chile and chorizo. I just read about a new addition to the Pantry – cold brewed coffee. Evidently, the cold brewing process removes all the acidity and produces a smooth full-bodied flavorful coffee unlike anything we have experienced. Brewed in cold water for two days and mixed with different flavors like cinnamon, vanilla, and toffee. A definite must on our next visit to Santa Fe!
  • Pink Adobe, 406 Old Santa Fe Trail, was established in 1944 by Rosalea Murphy. Known affectionately by locals as “The Pink,” the restaurant has grown into a local and national landmark since its humble beginnings. Located in the center of the historic Barrio de Analco, across the street from the San Miguel Mission, which is considered the oldest church in the United States. Great martinis, and the Steak Dunigan receives excellent reviews (check out the photo on their website).
  • Harry’s Roadhouse, 96 Old Las Vegas Hwy, a review I read online sums it up nicely… “A funky, colorful, rambling restaurant, Harry’s Roadhouse is many things to many people. It’s part roadhouse, of course, part diner, part bar, and, in summer, part garden café. It’s also a popular gathering spot, an easily accessible halfway point for folks in town and those more far-flung. It serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offering a huge range of foods and styles, a lot of which it does well. Maybe “nothing ever changes there,” as a friend of mine recently said — but, hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Recommended: buckwheat pancakes, wild mushroom pizza, gala apple salad, blackened catfish, and chocolate cream pie.”
Chile peppers, Santa Fe Farmers Market
Chile peppers for sale at the Santa Fe Farmers Market.

Ready to do some of your own cooking? Head to the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market. It is open year round on Saturday mornings at its permanent home in the Railyard, 1607 Paseo de Peralta (at S. Guadalupe St). Here you can find many varieties of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, some available year-round. In addition to seasonal produce, you can always find quality meats, dairy, and eggs; flowers and houseplants; traditional dried foods; superb baked goods; jams, jellies, and honey; natural body care and herbal products; and original crafts and homespun garments. During the planting season, you will also find compost, worms, and an extensive choice of bedding plants.

Peppers roasting at the Santa Fe Farmer's Market
Peppers roasting in September at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market.

The Market is not exclusively organic, but many of the growers are Certified Organic, or Certified Naturally Grown, and they post their Certificates or Crop Lists. You can ask the farmers how they raise their crops. They have baskets of beautiful produce grown without chemicals.

India, on my mind…

Photographs of tea plantations, net fishing, and parades during my visit to Kerala in 1997.

Different articles and books concerning India are crossing my path recently and bringing back many memories. January of 1997 I visited India with a group of 12 women. Our host was one of my social work professors – he taught us “group therapy” at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, but confessed to being terrified of the idea of leading 12 American women around his homeland of Southern India. For three weeks we traveled together from Chennai (then known as Madras), the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, to the state of Kerala on the south-west coast. Sadly, I did not keep a written journal, fortunately my photos bring back many memories.

My professor generously planned several visits to his family’s homes. I remember at one uncle’s home during our first few days in Madras, there was a computer and we took turns writing one email each – to our husband, parents, whomever. In mine I distinctly recall telling Jay that the sights, sounds, and smells of India were all new. Comparable to no other place I had visited. An orgy for the senses!

Some other writer’s travel articles that I have enjoyed reading lately…

In recent years, coffee planters in southwestern India have added lodging to their estates to earn income as the price of their commodity has fluctuated… Coffee Plantations in India Blend History and Hospitality.

Three insider itineraries for visiting one of the world’s most compelling and confounding countries… India in One, Two or Three Weeks.

Traveling in Kerala is as easy and rewarding as a glide through its backwaters. In this excerpt from an article first published in Lonely Planet Magazine, are the highlights, from coconut palm-lined coasts to elephant and tiger reserves… A Perfect Trip to Kerala.

Traveling on an Indian train is a reason to travel all by itself. India’s rail network is one of the world’s most extensive and the prices are very reasonable… How to Book Trains in India.

And some books to read on your plane, train, or sofa…

In India Calling, author Anand Giridharadas brings to life the people and the dilemmas of India today, through the prism of his émigré family history and his childhood memories of India. He introduces us to entrepreneurs, radicals, industrialists, and religious seekers, but, most of all, to Indian families. Through their stories, and his own, he paints an intimate portrait of a country becoming modern while striving to remain itself.

From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, is a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities. Boo spent three years among the residents of the Annawadi slum, a sprawling settlement of more than 300 tin-roof huts and shacks in the shadow of Mumbai’s International Airport.

Let’s end with a quote from Will Durant (American philosopher, 1885 to 1981) ~

India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.

Safe travels.

San Miguel de Allende: Restaurants, bakeries, groceries

Whether you are eating at home or dining out at a local restaurant, San Miguel de Allende food is tasty and affordable…

Restaurants

The Fat Mermaid in San Miguel de Allende
La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid)

La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid) ~ Calle Bar­ranca at the cor­ner with Calle Huer­tas. Happening little neighborhood cantina, dating back to the 1920s. Nothing pretentious. No white tablecloths. Just good, fast service and delicious fresh seafood and ginger margaritas. On several visits we enjoyed the tacos, tostados and ceviche – good fresh seafood. Another night we devoured the BBQ ribs and the melt in your mouth ham hock as carry out. Oh yes, the artichoke appetizer is yummy too. Cool place to have just up the street from our rental.

Hecho en Mexico ~ Ancho de San Antonio #8. A recommendation for great jazz was our introduction to this restaurant and we were not disappointed. The “house” quartet is outstanding. Some of the musicians played with Doc Severinsen. There is no extra charge for the music if you have dinner. Ten of us sat around a big table and received great service. We started with homemade guacamole & chips, and as a group enjoyed the Spinach & Beet salad, Cheeseburgers, Fish Tacos, Shrimp Broquettes on rosemary stalks and Arranchera (traditional marinated Mexican flank steak). One of the side dishes, jicama salad, is like a slaw and fantastic. They have a nice choice of tequilla and good margaritas. Dinner and a drink cost about $12 USD. Wonderful historic setting with an interior cactus garden.

Cafe Rama in San Miguel de Allende
We end the evening at Cafe Rama.

Cafe Rama ~ Calle Nueva 7. Vogue magazine describes it well – “a funky outdoor establishment that has a 1970s Berkeley vibe with Pop Art decor.” Known for its tapas, this Saturday evening we enjoy a fixed price tapas meal of their choice. Trusting in the chef’s abilities we relaxed with a bottle of wine as we receive a taste delight every 10 minutes or so. Starting with a antipasto dish of Spanish Serrano ham, goat cheese, pickled watermelon, olives and salty/sweet almonds, we go on to enjoy a savory polenta with a tasty tomato topping, a crispy risotto pancake topped with a shrimp, mussels with garlic & ginger, and several others. Ending with a sensuous dessert finale of cappuccino crème brûlée and baked meringue with lemon custard and fresh strawberry sauce. A delightful experience for me, as the chef easily and creatively accommodated my gluten-free diet needs.

Mandinga ~ Correa #24. We meet a vegetarian friend at this pizza and empanadas restaurant housed in another very cool old building with an inviting outdoor courtyard set up like a dining room. They also have an indoor café/bar with a fireplace but it was a beautiful evening and we chose the outside dining by candlelight. We arrive during Happy Hour when they offer two cocktails or glasses of wine for the price of one… our waiter suggested a very nice red wine to go with our empanadas, pizza and salads. Jay declares these the best empanadas he has ever had and our friend devours his entire pizza with gusto. Big bowls of fresh spinach, cheese, olives made up our delicious salads. One note – as a gluten-free eater this may not be the best choice if you are hungry for more than a salad.

Cafe La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Breakfast at Cafe La Parroquia.

Cafe de la Parroquia / La Brasserie ~ Jesus 11, Centro Historico.

Cafe de la Parroquia is a great spot for breakfast. They have a lovely patio with a central fountain artfully decorated with yellow roses the morning we were here. Delicious fresh mini baguette come with a wonderful avocado salsa, butter and  jam. Good Americana coffee, normal & decaf, and many varieties of egg dishes are served. We love our scrambled eggs with ham, onion & Serrano pepper; a omellette with potato, ham, onion, parsley & zucchini, and scrambled eggs with chorizo. Green drinks and fresh carrot juice are another healthy option. The service is very good, with the owner often in attendance.

La Brasserie restaurant in San Miguel de Allende
Live music at La Brasserie.

Once the wrought-iron gates of La Parroquia close on the late lunch crowd, La Brasserie starts gearing up to delight diners in the same space. It becomes a French bistro with a Mexican accent—one of the most pleasant restaurants San Miguel style. La Brasserie’s owner/chef, Valeria, is the daughter of Francoise, the French-born owner of La Parroquia. She grew up waiting tables there and helping out in the kitchen, so she knows the business top to bottom. Steak, frites and salad are excellent, as is the Chicken Enchilada Mole. This mole sauce is the real thing with 50+ spices and peppers in it. Reasonably priced in a pleasant setting.

The Restaurant ~ Sollano #16. Six of us totally enjoy the Mo’ Better Burger Thursday Night Special at The Restaurant and I have total confidence that any night would be terrific. This is an upscale restaurant with a casually elegant setting in a beautiful old stone building. Service is impeccable and friendly. As a starter we try the Caesar salad and Spinach salad – both are first-rate with very fresh greens. Four of us have variations of 1/2 lb. beef burgers (ground in-house). – all come medium as ordered, deliciously juicy and pink inside and served with house cured pickles, and crispy potatoes with garlic, rosemary and parsley. I have the Mafiosa burger with balsamic roasted onions, oven dried tomatoes, parmesan crisp & arugula. Outrageous! Jay has La Griega – a ground lamb burger with roasted tomatoes, feta cheese, pickled onions and spinach on an onion bun. Delish. A great wine list – we enjoy two bottles of red wine from the Baja region of Mexico.

Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar & 1826 Bar ~ Rosewood Hotel, Nemesio Diez 11. Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar serves up savory Mexican and Spanish tapas in a casual atmosphere which we enjoyed on a 2 for 1 special night. It is a tempting place to linger after a day of sightseeing in the city to take in the breathtaking views of La Parroquia, the city and magnificent sunsets. Situated across from the main restaurant, the 1826 Bar offers delicious snacks and a full bar with a full range of tequila (tastings on Wednesdays) to enjoy in a quiet, and elegant setting. Highly recommend the rooftop bar even if it’s just for one drink to enjoy the views of San Miguel.

Ole Ole Restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Ole Ole Restaurant

Ole Ole Restaurant ~ Loreto #66. Bullfighting posters and memorabilia fill the walls and the tasty fajitas are very reasonably priced. Our group started with one order of the sautéed mushrooms with onions and peppers which came with warm tortillas and served four. We dined on the chicken, beef and aranchera fajitas – all the meats were tasty – although I would recommend the aranchera if you like beef, it is especially moist and tender. Portions are large and prices are very reasonable. You can easily eat a full meal for under ten dollars. Negro Modelo beer was the drink of choice.

Carcassonne ~ Correo 34. Carcasssonne Restaurante & Bar is in a beautiful historic stone building with elegant curved arch doorways and a glass enclosed wine cellar. Elegant is the word. We enjoy the delicious lamb ribs and our friends enjoy their steaks. All cooked medium as we ordered. Service is professional and deliberate; we inform our waiter that we have a movie to go to and he makes sure we are finished on time.

Posadita Restaurant entrance in San Miguel de Allende
La Posadita Restaurant

La Posadita – Cuna de Allende #13. As the evening approaches we decide to walk over to Cuna de Allende and experience our first tamarind margarita as the sun sets. We walk up the narrow stairway to La Posadita, settle down at one of the rooftop tables and order our margaritas. They are wonderful and intense, not like anything we’ve ever tasted. In the evening  sky the city lights begin to glow and twinkle and the panoramic view from La Posadita is breathtaking. The following week we return for dinner with our friends and enjoy the asparagus wrapped in bacon served on grilled onions & tomatoes, but find the ribeye and arranchera dinners average. My suggestion – go for the view and have a drink.

Outdoor bar at Tacos don Felix in San Miguel de Allende
Outdoor bar of Tacos don Felix.

Tacos Don Felix “En La Casa” ~ 15TH Fray Juan de San Miguel St. Take a cab out of the historic district into this Mexican neighborhood to find a true Mexican family restaurant. As the evening passes the tables fill up with Mexican families and ex-pats. We start with a salad for four – greens, jicama, tomatoes, onions, carrots come piled on the platter… then a taco sampler for each of us. Seven tacos – beef, pork, huitlacoche, spanish style sausage, shrimp, chicken, beef rib with onions. Delicious. A neighboring table has steaks which look and smell tempting. The service is gracious and after dinner they are happy to call a cab for you.

Los Milagro in San Miguel de Allende
Los Milagros on Calle Relox #17

Los Milagros ~ Relox 17. A very friendly young waiter drew us into this centuries-old colonial house vibrant with Mexican decor and featuring the “miracle-making” figurines called Milagros, as we look over the menu in the entryway. He recommends the “Volcano Bowls”, so we ordered two of the arranchera beef bowls. The beef is cooked in green sauce and served with grilled cactus, green onions, chiles & white cheese. On the side comes guacamole, refried beans and corn tortillas. They are very tasty and the “bowl” retains it heat well, so the food stays nicely warm. Servings are very generous – next time we may share one volcano bowl.

El Pegaso ~ Corregidora &, México. The prices are moderate, the service is friendly and efficient and the place is spotless. The decor is Mexican funky—with lots of color and good examples of folk art on the walls (all of it for sale). Check out the cheerful little painted tin nichos made by the well-known Cielito Lindo workshop in Colonia Guadalupe. Colorful and funny, they feature Day of the Dead calaca figures in common, silly and occasionally risqué tableaux. Known for breakfast and lunch, we enjoyed a fantastic spinach salad garnished with fresh papaya slices, tamales, enchiladas and homemade soup. It is conveniently located one block east of the Jardin.

El Ten Ten Pie ~ Cuna de Allende 21, corner of Cuadrante. The name “El Ten Ten Pie” is a play on words. It comes from the Spanish slang term tentempie, which translates loosely as “a little something to keep you on your feet.” This is a favorite San Miguel hangout with a popular outdoor café. Have that “little something”— a taco, a quesadilla or the best flan in town—or you can fill up on the comida corrida, for about eight bucks. It includes soup or salad, a main dish with rice and beans, and dessert. Good for lunch and people watching – we had a good salad and tacos.

Cafe Buen Dia – on Callejon Pueblito. Several Sundays we relaxed in the sun on the rooftop for a nice brunch with friends. Known for their espresso coffees – cappuccino, café au lait, americana – we sipped coffees and a yummy hot cocoa while waiting for our Special breakfasts to come. Starting with a bowl of fresh fruit or juice, then your choice of eggs, toast, coffee, potatoes or beans. We especially like Brad’s scramble with mushrooms, spinach, cheese and nice crispy bacon… our friend recommends the Huevos Rancheros.

Cafe Santa Ana in La Biblioteca – Insurgentes 25. To keep up with the numerous cultural events (often in English) taking place in this city, La Biblioteca is a good resource. Here you can find information and tickets to lectures, house tours, concerts, and theatrical productions, many of which are held within the historic library building itself. The library’s jungly outdoor Café Santa Ana, with tables clustered around a central fountain, is a pleasant place for a cappuccino, banana bread or other snack or light meal.

Bakeries

Cumpanio in San Miguel de Allende
Cumpanio bakery & restaurant

Cumpanio ~ Correo 29. High quality bakery & restaurant known for their homemade breads, pastries, and contemporary dining space serving elegant meals. Just a couple blocks from our rental house this was our closest bakery and what a treat. Great pastries, breads and homemade truffles in the bakery. Four of us had a delicious lunch one day in the contemporary restaurant – a perfectly seared tuna sandwich and fantastic burgers with french fries. Our friends returned for breakfast and raved about it.

El Petit Four ~ Mesones 99. Delicious French-style cakes and pastries;  wonderful espresso (they use Lavazza coffee) and sandwiches made with house-baked baguettes. Highly recommended like Cumpanio.

Bakery at the San Miguel de Allende farmers market
Buen Vida Bakery at Saturday Organic Farmers Market

La Buena Vida ~ Hernandez Macias 72. This little place is situated in the back of Plaza Golondrinas, across from Bellas Artes. They offer whole grain and sourdough breads, as well as, an assortment of pastries, brownie and doughnuts. Open 8 AM – 4 PM. Closed Sunday. Their booth at the Saturday Organic Farmers Market always has a line.

Pura Vida Juice Bar/Cafè – Pila Seca #9. Finally some gluten-free baked goods! Alicia Wilson Rivero is the owner of both the Pura Vida Store and the Cooking School at the LifePath Center.  She shares in a global mission to create and offer healthy, delicious food using locally harvested, fresh and organic products.  She develops menus and provides meals for LifePath retreat guests interested in following a special menu plan. Raw food, vegans, wheat-free diets are among the diets she can cater to.

Pura Vida Cafe in San Miguel de Allende
Alicia at the Pura Vida Juice Bar/Cafe

The day we stopped by she had gluten-free banana muffins, gluten-free carrot muffins, raw date snacks, and a decadent flourless chocolate cake. She also offers freshly made drinks, nourishing self-care products, and a wifi-ready rooftop terrace where patrons can relax and enjoy a healthful meal.

Grocery stores

Via Organica ~ Margarito Ledesma 2. Café, bakery, vegetable shop, grocery store. We visit Via Organica weekly for organic fresh vegetables (grown by local farmers), freshly made almond or peanut butter, gluten-free crackers & cereal and baked goods (gluten-free and regular). Their café serves delicious Mexican and international dishes which you can also get as take away. One visit we picked up some cilantro pesto which we have enjoyed on everything from veggies to pork. Via Organica is one part of Organic Way AC – a Mexican non-profit organization whose mission is to promote good nutrition through organic farming, fair trade, a healthy lifestyle and protecting the planet. They also have a booth at the Saturday Organic Farmers Market.

Via Organica in San Miguel de Allende
Via Organica is a favorite.
Bonanza grocery store in San Miguel de Allende
Bonanza grocery store on Mesones 43-A

Bonanza ~ Mesones #43-A. This terrific little grocery store in Centro San Miguel has a deli section, imported foods, all kinds of nuts, an impressive gluten-free section, local breads, fresh tortillas, cheeses, fresh yoghurt, Chinese noodles, balsamic vinegar, liquor, shampoos and more. Large bins of rice, grains, beans, flower and spices sold by the gram. Between Bonanza and Via Organica we find all we need.

¡Buen provecho! (Bon Appetit!)
While in San Miguel, I wrote a blog post each week, click on each week below to view photos and read about our adventures: