Albuquerque, New Mexico

Painting in the Hotel Andaluz, Albuquerque, NM
Passionate painting in the Hotel Andaluz

Vast skies and big sun greet us as we step out into the chilly air at Albuquerque International Airport. Here to explore the city – its history, architecture and food – we head to the Hotel Andaluz in downtown Albuquerque.

The Andalucian region of Spain inspired the hotel’s décor and architectural style.
The Andalucian region of Spain inspired the hotel’s décor and architectural style.
Hotel Andaluz, Albuquerque, NM
Unique private alcoves in the lobby.

Hotel Andaluz was originally opened in 1939 by New Mexico native Conrad Hilton, and was the fourth Hilton Hotel ever built. During the last renovation the new ownership incorporated many green initiatives into the building. Furnishings, equipment, and demolition debris were recycled and documented throughout the process. Solar energy generates approximately 60% of the guest rooms’ hot water. Interior finishes have been carefully selected to incorporate LEED approved natural and low VOC emissions products.

Besides being a visual treat the hotel offers comfort on all levels. Our room is spacious, nicely appointed and immaculate.  The lobby is inspired by the Andalusian region of Spain, and has a central area with small, intimate alcoves along one side. Staff is attentive and informed… and the rates are very good this time of year.

This is our first time exploring Albuquerque and we chose to stay downtown in hopes of walking everywhere. We soon learn the city is quite spread out. Uber becomes our best friend.

Contrasting the comfort of our hotel are the number of homeless people we observe as we walk around the downtown area. Not threatening to us but a sad reminder of how many people are falling through the cracks of our society. Doing research for this post I came across an article in the New York Times: Albuquerque, Revising Approach Toward the Homeless, Offers Them Jobs. The city is implementing a work program for those living on the street who are interested. A van goes around and picks up those who would like to work for the day. Participants are paid by the hour and provided a lunch of sandwiches, chips and granola bars. For the city, it represents a policy shift toward compassion and utility.

Albuquerque's historic Kimo theatre.
Albuquerque’s historic Kimo theatre.
KiMo Theater sconce
KiMo Theater Native American inspired sconce.

Not far from our hotel is one of the city’s best known landmarks, The KiMo Theatre, a Pueblo Deco picture palace, opened on September 19, 1927. Pueblo Deco was a flamboyant, short-lived architectural style that fused the spirit of the Native American cultures of the Southwest with the excitement of Art Deco. Native American motifs appeared in only a handful of theaters, and of those few, the KiMo is the undisputed king. We were fortunate to take in a matinee – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – part of a “Best of Bogart” series.

Kimo Theatre, Albuquerque, NM
Beautiful murals line the stairway of the KiMo Theatre.

The interior is designed to look like the inside of a ceremonial kiva, with log-like ceiling beams painted with dance and hunting scenes.

Albuquerque's Kimo Theatre lobby.
Albuquerque’s KiMo Theatre lobby.
Satellite Coffee in Nob Hill
Satellite Coffee in Nob Hill

One of the areas we Uber to is Nob Hill, a mile-long stretch along Central Avenue with shops, trendy restaurants, and nightspots. Central Avenue became part of Route 66 in 1937 as it passed through Albuquerque on its way from Chicago to Los Angeles. Today new and old businesses share a commitment to the area’s retro style, and the area remains lively in part because the University of  New Mexico occupies over 600 acres along Central Avenue, and serves more than 25,000 students. Nob Hill has been described as “the heart of Albuquerque’s Route 66 culture and also its hippest, funkiest retail and entertainment district”… and is named after Nob Hill in San Francisco.

The Guild, an independent art house.
The Guild, an independent art house.

On a cold winter afternoon, we enjoy a foreign film at the Guild in Nob Hill. A compact, retro-inspired theater screening limited release, international & art-house flicks.

Albuquerque is bordered to the east by the Sandia Mountains. Hoping to get a closer view of these spectacular peaks we plan to ride the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway—the world’s longest—to the crest, where you can look out over 11,000 square miles of magical New Mexico landscape. Unfortunately, the tram is closed on this Tuesday so we settle for a photo and decide to check out the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.

Sandia mountains
Sandia mountains

We read that the Museum’s mission is to serve as America’s resource for nuclear history and science. Exhibits and educational programs convey the diversity of individuals and events that shape the historical and technical context of the nuclear age. Having watched the series Manhattan about our country’s race to build the first atomic bomb in Los Alamos we are intrigued.

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
B52 bomber at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.
B52 bomber at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.

The Museum tells the story of the Atomic Age, from early research of nuclear development through today’s uses of the technology. In the summer the Museum runs a science camp program within the state, with 300 day-campers learning about robotics, flight, engineering, medicine and general science.

Prickly pear cactus in bloom.
Prickly pear cactus in bloom.

Prickly Pear Margarita’s are on our minds as we wind up the day and leave you with some dining suggestions… all able to accommodate a gluten-free diet.

Fork & Fig Reuben with brussels sprout side.
Fork & Fig Reuben with brussels sprout side.

Fork & Fig – specializing in gourmet sandwiches, paninis and wraps but also incorporates a fine dining element in the quality of their ingredients and creativity. For example, their Rueben… pastrami+shredded pork+green chile slaw+sauerkraut+swiss+russian dressing+marbled rye bread… delicious. And the day we dined a side of sautéed brussels sprouts with bacon and a touch of maple syrup.

Vinaigrette – 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 is a pleasure to find when on the road.

Range Cafe on Menaul Blvd.
Fun decor at the Range Cafe on Menaul Blvd.

Slate Street Cafe – Preparing comfort foods in a contemporary style, they work with local farmers to provide the freshest ingredients… local eggs for breakfast and heirloom tomatoes for dinner. We recommend Katie’s Eggs with green chile to begin the day.

Farm & Table – Upscale and regional, offering seasonal menus featuring local-sourced foods. They have a garden and farm stand right behind the restaurant! One of the top restaurants in Albuquerque.

Range Cafe – an Albuquerque landmark serving up southwestern comfort food. Locally owned, family friendly, great service, and quality food… they are open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As a useful guide, consider 100 Things to Do in Albuquerque Before You Die. The author, Ashley M. Biggers, is a writer and editor, as well as a native of Albuquerque. She has covered the city for several local and regional publications. Her book celebrates the top ways to (re)discover the city-from a trip 4,000 feet up on the aerial tramway to a public art walk, and includes places to hike, bike, and paddle… plus, where to dine on dishes prepared by the city’s best chefs.

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City

The Whitney Museum of American Art

Walking to the Whitney Museum on a mild winter day is a treat. Eager to be out and about in Manhattan, we begin our trek from The Marcel at Gramercy Hotel on East 24th Street near Gramercy Park. Walking down 23rd we make our way to the High Line – a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side that will deliver us to the Whitney.

Approaching the High Line.
Approaching the High Line.
Walking on the High Line.
Walking on the High Line.

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running. Species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and color variation, with a focus on native species.

Italian architect and engineer, Renzo Piano, designed the new Whitney Museum. From a piece in the New Yorker I read:

  “He (Piano) expressed pride in the startling mismatch of the museum’s eastern and western fronts”. On the east, the building descends in tiers—“to bring down the scale,” he said—toward the historic low-rise buildings of the neighborhood. The side that faces the river is “more massive, more strong,” Piano said. A truncated-pyramid profile with jutting banks of large windows, it “talks to the rest of the world” from an attitude of confident majesty. Immodestly, but with proof in the product, the architect cited the elements that he had sought to incorporate in the design: “social life, urbanity, invention, construction, technology, poetry, light—an immense rich bouillabaisse.”

Whitney Museum
On the east side the Whitney descends in tiers.

Popular even during the week on a winter day, we wait in line outside for about 20 minutes to enter the Whitney. Observing the action in the Museum’s restaurant Untitled we decide to begin with an early lunch. Occupying a long, narrow space with glass walls on three sides, the restaurant, like the rest of the museum, was designed by Renzo Piano.

Untitled restaurant at the Whitney Museum.
Untitled restaurant at the Whitney Museum.

Untitled is a new restaurant from Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and its menu is inspired by the seasons and the creative environment of the museum. While waiting we look through his cookbook – V is for Vegetables – delicious doable recipes with short ingredient lists and color photos, designed for home cooks.

Sitting at the Untitled bar, lunch was delicious and social. Our waiter was knowledgeable and guided me through what turned out to be a fairly gluten-free menu, and highly recommended their acclaimed chocolate chip cookie (entirely gluten-free). Turns out the recipe was born when pastry chef Miro Uskokovic took it upon himself to create the ultimate chocolate chip cookie – one combining a soft, gooey interior with a toothsome, crunchy exterior. Playing with varieties and ratios of sugar and butter, he settled on a combination of brown and white sugar with clarified browned butter. Then, to see if the cookie could be made gluten-free on special request, he tested the cookie with Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup gluten-free flour. The result? The staff actually preferred the GF version.

Food truck in front of Whitney
Business is slow for artful food truck in front of the Whitney.

The Whitney Museum of American Art was born out of sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s advocacy on behalf of living American artists. At the beginning of the twentieth century, artists with new ideas found it nearly impossible to exhibit or sell their work in the United States. Recognizing the obstacles these artists faced, Mrs. Whitney began purchasing and showing their work, thereby becoming the leading patron of American art from 1907 until her death in 1942. Today the Whitney’s collection includes over 21,000 works created by more than 3,000 artists in the United States during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Blues, 1929, Archibald J. Motley Jr.
Blues, 1929, Archibald J. Motley Jr. (Courtesy of Nasher Museum of Art)

At the time of our visit a special exhibit –  Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist – caught my attention and was the highlight of my visit. Archibald John Motley Jr. (1891–1981) was a bold and highly original modernist and one of the great visual chroniclers of twentieth-century African American life. As the Whitney exhibition notes of Motley’s artistic interest in these portraits: “On the one hand, he believed that seeing themselves in art would help African Americans feel pride in their own racial identities; on the other, he hoped that seeing beautiful contemporary black subjects would dispel stereotypes and undermine racism.”

View of the Hudson River from the Whitney .
View of the Hudson River from the Whitney .
View of the High Line from the Whitney.
View of the High Line and the neighborhood from the Whitney.

Savoring Motley’s paintings of jazz and blues, we end our day at Jazz Standard. Home to world-class jazz, warm Southern hospitality, and award-winning Southern cuisine and barbecue. Finding the setting intimate and comfortable we settle in to enjoy Children of the Light, two-thirds of the legendary Wayne Shorter Quartet. The music is clear and beautiful. Acoustic sound with some electric touches, simple but also majestic. Danilo Perez is the excellent pianist, John Patitucci is the great bass player and Brian Blade is called “one of the best drummers in this moment”. Amazing day… and only a 10 minute walk back to the Marcel at Gramercy Hotel!

Children of the Light at Jazz Standard
Drinks all around as we settle in for Children of the Light at Jazz Standard.

Barcelona, Spain – walk, dine, sleep

Barcelona, Spain

“Barcelona bubbles with life in its narrow Barri Gòtic alleys, along the pedestrian boulevard called the Ramblas, in the funky bohemian quarter of El Born, and throughout the chic, grid-planned part of town called the Eixample. Its Old City is made for seeing on foot, full of winding lanes that emerge into secluded squares dotted with palm trees and ringed with cafés and boutiques. The waterfront bristles with life, overlooked by the park-like setting of Montjuïc. Across the city, the architecture is colorful, playful, and unique. In this vibrant city, locals still join hands and dance the sardana in front of the cathedral every weekend. Neighborhood festivals jam the events calendar. The cafés are filled by day, and people crowd the streets at night… If you’re in the mood to surrender to a city’s charms, let it be in Barcelona.”
~ Rick Steves

Hotel Praktik Rambla in Barcelona (Photo courtesy of Remodelista)
Hotel Praktik Rambla in Barcelona (Photo courtesy of Remodelista)

Late afternoon sunlight greets us as we walk out of the Barcelona Sants train station. Having just traveled up the coast from Valencia by high speed train we are tired but relaxed. Excited to grab a cab and get our first glance of Barcelona as we travel across the city to our hotel on the famous Las Ramblas Boulevard.

Hotel Praktik Rambla, Sunroom, Barcelona, Spain
Glorious sunroom at Hotel Praktik Rambla

Months before we decide to visit Barcelona I am visiting one of my favorite blogs – Remodelista – and read this:

“The next time you’re in Barcelona, soak up the city’s infamous architecture by staying in the Praktik Rambla, a budget design hotel housed in the historic Casa Climent Arola building. Constructed in the beginning of the 19th century by the Spanish architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano (the Sagrada Familia was his commission first, as in pre-Gaudi), the grand building with is modern interiors allows you to immerse yourself seamlessly into the spirit of Barcelona.”

Hotel Praktik Rambla, Barcelona
Modern and vintage design blend well at the Hotel Praktik Rambla, Barcelona

The Hotel Praktik Rambla renovation design conserved the original Art Nouveau elements of the building, such as the mouldings, the high ceilings, the mosaic floors (original 19th century tile work), and mixed them elegantly with parquet floors, modern lamps, vintage bathrooms, large, comfortable white beds, touches of design and elegance and, above all, loads of comfort… four days of elegance, comfort, and quiet are ours at a very reasonable rate in February.

Soaring marble walled courtyard in the Hotel Praktik Rambla.
Soaring marble walled courtyard in the Hotel Praktik Rambla.

Saturday morning we hear, then see, “Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia” – Barcelona’s biggest annual festival for children. The festival takes place at many venues all over Barcelona but it is mostly in the Ciutat Vella – old city of Barcelona. The program for the Santa Eulalia festival includes many typical Catalan traditions like parades with “gegants” and other fantasy figures.

Young drummers fill the streets for "Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia" parade.
Young drummers fill the streets for “Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia” parade.
The Arc de Triomf
In 1888 Barcelona hosted the Universal Exhibition, and the Arc de Triomf was built as the gateway to the fair.

One of the many things I enjoy about travel is the way I become immersed in the city and area I am visiting… researching the story behind what I am seeing to satisfy my own curiosity and share in my writing.

The history of the Arc de Triomf began in late 19th century when it was built for the World Expo of 1888, which Barcelona hosted. The arch was designed by the noted Catalan architect Josep Vilaseca. The design by Vilaseca stands out from other well-known triumphal arches, in particular the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Instead of using sandstone or marble, Vilaseca decided to build the arch using red bricks.

Using bricks as the main material is a typical feature of the rather unusual architectural style the arch is built in. The arch is inspired by Muslim architecture, in particular the style is known as “Mudéjar” which emerged during the 12th century on the Iberian Peninsula. The style was created by the Moors and Muslims who remained in the area after the Christians had recaptured and repopulated the whole Iberian Peninsula.

The Arc de Triomf
Today, the arch still serves as an entrance to the great Park de la Ciutadella. The arch, with its open surroundings and relaxed environment, is a favorite spot for locals and visitors.

Walking up Passeig de Gràcia we get our first taste of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi’s work – La Pedrera.

Situated on an asymmetrical corner lot, this large apartment building was immediately dubbed “la pedrera,” or “the quarry,” because of its cliff-like walls. There are various theories regarding the source of Gaudí’s inspiration – from ocean waves to a variety of specific mountains, even a mountain crest with clouds. This unique limestone building appears sculptural, with undulating curves, and black iron balconies that contrast nicely with the lightness of the limestone.

La Pedrera or Casa Milà was constructed between 1906 and 1912. Due to its unique artistic style and heritage value it has received major recognition and in 1984 was inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List.

Gaudi’s Casa Milà, known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry), due to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry.
Gaudi’s Casa Milà, known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry), due to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry.

Barcelona is a city made for walking, a visual aesthetic feast. Window shopping and people watching are a delight… as is the casual search for the next cafe in which to enjoy a coffee, snack on some tapas, or sip a glass of wine or beer.

shopping, Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain
Window shopping along the Ramblas.
Enticing leather bags.
A window full of enticing leather bags captures my eye as we stroll Passeig de Gràcia.
graffiti, shopping, El Born, barcelona, spain
Colorful graffiti draws attention to this shop entrance in El Born.

The Museu Picasso in Barcelona is rich in regard to work from the formative years in the life of the artist, up to the Blue Period. Young Picasso’s genius is revealed through the over 4000 works that make up the permanent collection, and it was stunning to see his level of accomplishment as a teenager. Opened in 1963, the museum helps us realize his deep relationship with Barcelona, one that was shaped in his adolescence and youth, and continued until his death.

The museum occupies five adjoining medieval stone mansions on the Carrer de Montcada. The original palaces date from the 13th-15th centuries, undergoing major refurbishments over time, the most important in the 18th century. Today the elegant courtyards, galleries and staircases are as much a part of the experience as the collection inside.

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”
~ Pablo Picasso

Picasso Museum, La Ribera district, Barcelona, Spain
Historic outdoor courtyard in the Picasso Museum.

The Joan Miró Foundation opened to the public in 1975. Interest in a museum began after Miro’s exhibition in Barcelona, in 1968. Several figures from the art world saw the opportunity to have a space in Barcelona dedicated to the his work. The museum’s exhibits give a broad impression of Miró’s artistic development, and in accordance with his wishes, the institution also promotes the work of contemporary artists in all its aspects.

Designed by Miro’s close friend, the architect Josep Lluís Sert, the Foundation was designed in accordance with the principles of Rationalist architecture, with different spaces set around a central patio in the traditional Mediterranean style and with Sert’s characteristic skylights.

“I try to apply colors like words that shape poems,
like notes that shape music.”
~ Joan Miro

Juan Miro Foundation exhibit area (phot o courtesy of the Foundation).
Juan Miro Foundation exhibit area (photo courtesy of the Foundation).

Our go to place for tapas in Barcelona is Cervecería Catalana. Recommended by the hotel, it is considered one of the best places in the city. You can find all kind of tapas and “montaditos” (food on bread). The cold tapas are on display and you can order hot tapas from their menu. Several mornings began with breakfast at the bar – enjoying a tortilla (Spanish omelette) and the patatas bravas (fried potatoes served warm with aioli and a spicy tomato sauce – fantastic). The large dining area is bustling and its fun to see what others have ordered. Service is skillful and helpful… located on Carrer de Mallorca, #236.

Cerveceria Catalana - delicious tapas restaurant.
Cerveceria Catalana – delicious tapas restaurant.

Los Caracoles was recommended by a fellow foodie we meet at Catalana. He visits Barcelona often and especially enjoys the rotisserie chicken at this old family restaurant located nearby in the Gothic district. Cave-like with dark wood, murals, and tiles, we pass through the bar, then kitchen, on our way to one of several dining areas.

Los Caracoles Restaurant is near Las Ramblas in the Gothic District.
Los Caracoles Restaurant is near Las Ramblas in the Gothic District.
Los Caracoles diners pass through the kitchen on the way to the dining areas.
Los Caracoles diners pass through the kitchen on the way to the dining areas.

After sharing a house salad, we enjoy the roast chicken and lamb ribs – both finger lickin’ good, and enhanced by the elegant setting and professional service.

Los Caracoles has offered high quality cooking for four generations.
Los Caracoles has offered high quality cooking for four generations.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.”
~ Mark Twain

Note: Spain’s RENFE rail system offers senior travelers 60 and older the Tarjeta Dorada (“Gold Card”). With the Tarjeta Dorada, you will save 25 to 40 percent on train tickets, depending on the day of the week you travel and how far in advance you buy your tickets. You can buy your Tarjeta Dorada at a RENFE station for 5.05 Euros; it will be valid for one year.

Granada, Spain – The Alhambra

Alhambra

The Royal City of Alhambra sits proudly on a hill above Granada. It is known as one of the most important architectural structures of the Middle Ages in Spain and the finest example of Islamic architecture left in the western world. Visiting on a cool, rainy day at the end of January it held our attention for the entire afternoon.

Water, rare and precious in most of the Islamic world, was the purest symbol of life to the Moors. Coming from the deserts of the south, the Moors celebrated water and its abundance in their new home.

Alhambra walls

The Alhambra was once a city of a thousand people and covers an area of over 32 acres. Its enclosed by more than a mile of walls reinforced by thirty towers, many of which are in ruins.

Gardens in the Alhambra.

Alhambra fruit tree

The Generalife was a retreat where the monarchs of Granada could relax, away from the bustle of the court. Yet close enough to the palace to attend to any urgent matters that might arise.

View of Generalife in the distance.
View of Generalife in the distance.
Generalife and its gardens.
Generalife and its gardens.
Courtyard in the Generalife .
Courtyard in the Generalife .

The Alhambra’s Palacios Nazaries, the Moorish royal palace, was built mostly in the 14th century.

Alhambra - palace

I read that space in the Alhambra is open, like in the desert. The Courtyard of the Lions isn’t a house with a garden, but a garden containing a house. Refreshing water flows from the mouths of the twelve white marble lions.

Alhambra - palace courtyard
Courtyard of the Lions.
Ceiling detail in the Palace.
Ceiling detail in the Palace.
Palace door surrounded by intricate plaster design.
Palace door surrounded by intricate plaster design.
The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life crowns the line of inscriptions written around the wall. This type of plasterwork motif spreading downward from an apex is an allusion to the inverted tree that sustains the celestial bodies in the heavens and buries its roots in paradise.

Alhambra - The Hall of the Kings
The Hall of the Kings.
Window with a view.
Window with a view.

After an amazing afternoon at the Alhambra, our brains totally saturated with history, our bodies damp and chilled, we return to our slice of history – Hotel Casa 1800 Granada. Located at the foot of the Alhambra, in a charming Old Granadian house from the XVII Century, we are ready for a siesta.

Hotel Casa 1800 Granada
Hotel Casa 1800 Granada

You may also enjoy our post:
Dining in Granada, Spain

Seville, Spain – Cathedral, Geralda Bell Tower, dining

Night church
Seville Cathedral with the Giralda (Bell Tower) aglow.

Heading to Hotel Casa 1800 we catch our first glimpse of the magnificent Seville Cathedral. Legend has it that when they tore down a mosque of brick in 1401, the Christians re-conquering Spain said, “We will build a cathedral so huge that anyone who sees it will take us for madmen.” Taking about a hundred years to build, it is the third largest church in Europe, and the largest Gothic church in the world.

night all

The next morning we rise to sun, clear blue skies, and make our way to the Cathedral… take a stroll with us…

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The tomb of Christopher Columbus is located inside the Seville Cathedral in Spain. It was designed by the sculptor Arturo Melida. Originally installed in Havana, it was moved to Seville after Spain lost control of Cuba.

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Harvest time in the Cathedral’s Patio de los Naranjos (oranges).

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Spectacular views as we make our way up the 308′ high Giralda (bell tower). There are no stairs but a gently sloping ramp which ends just below the belfry. It is one of the very few buildings of Islamic Spain left unscathed by Christian intervention, and it is said that the Castillian king, Ferdinand III, rode to the top of the bell tower on horseback on the day he entered Seville on horseback.

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orange harvest
Quite a harvest from the Patio de los Naranjos!

In the distance is the Real Maestranza, Seville’s historic bullring, which we will visit tomorrow…

view with bullring

Gourmet tapas bars are the current trend in Seville and plentiful in our Santa Cruz neighborhood. Young staff at the Hotel Casa 1800, where we are staying and highly recommend, suggest two tapas bars near the hotel – both delicious – and for paella the more traditional, Cuna-2 Restaurante.

La Azotea is a stylish, small restaurant, with good service and delicious food. Innovative and beautifully presented tapas are the norm. Our first night in Seville we are spoiled by their tapas… a beautiful roll of salmon tartare, grilled octopus on a potato puree, rice triangles filled with crayfish and cheese. We return another morning for a comforting american style breakfast of omelet, meats, bread (including gluten-free).

Our last night in Seville we dine at El Pasaje. Another gem for tapas, small and cozy with an outdoor terrace in the rear of the restaurant which is enclosed and heated for the winter. Another feast of tastes is enjoyed… artichokes with almonds and ham in a vinaigrette, octopus with rustic potatoes, grilled salmon with a tasty sauce, and chicken masala with black rice. We drink glasses of the house Rioja – inexpensive and delicious (most wines by the glass are 3 to 4 euros in Spain).

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On the other end of the dining spectrum is Cuna-2. Housed in a four-story mansion designed by the great Ánibal Gonzalez. It’s been beautifully restored – a cool mix of old world beauty and ultra modern designer furniture that creates a uniquely stylish ambiance. Lovely tapas and traditional entrees like paella (which we enjoyed), are attractively presented in a number of pretty moorish tiled small dining areas flowing from a fountained central courtyard. Service was impeccable, friendly and informed. Their lovely roof terrace and cocktail bar would be a glorious in warmer weather.

You may also enjoy our other post on Seville:
Seville, Spain – The Royal Alcazar

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

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.

San Miguel de Allende: La semana cuarta y última

Historical Museum in San Miguel de Allende
Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende.

The Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende is one of many “regional museums” of Mexico. It was the home of Ignacio Allende, who was a principle protagonist in the early part of the Mexican War of Independence. The structure, built in 1759 with Baroque and Neoclassical elements, is located next to the San Miguel parish church, La Parroquia. The museum focuses on the history of the local area from the prehistoric period to the present, especially the area’s role in Mexico’s national history.

The first floor has exhibits about the founding of the town, its role in protecting the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro which was the Royal Inland Road, also known as the Silver Route. Although it was a route motivated and consolidated by the mining industry, it also fostered the creation of social, cultural and religious links in particular between Spanish and Amerindian cultures. I really enjoy the upper floor which has exhibits related to the family of Ignacio Allende and rooms preserved as they were when he lived here.

cat in doorway of house in san miguel de allende
The doorcat keeps watch... notice the cobblestone street.

If I have not mentioned this before, San Miguel de Allende is a city to be explored on foot, so I recommend you bring comfortable shoes because the streets are cobblestone and the sidewalks uneven stone with frequent steps.

Cobblestones are stones that were often used in paving early streets and the word derives from the very old English word “cob”, which had a range of meanings, one of which was “rounded lump” with overtones of large size. “Cobble”, which appeared in the 15th century and meant a small stone rounded by the flow of water; essentially, a large pebble. It was these smooth “cobbles”, gathered from stream beds, that paved the first “cobblestone” streets.

Laundry blowing in the wind, San Miguel de Allende.
We catch a glimpse of laundry blowing in the wind.

This is our last week in San Miguel and we have a list of things to do and see before we leave. One of mine is to visit the LifePath Center and the Pura Vida Store/Cafe on Pila Seca #9. My friend, Polly, brought me a gift of their decadent flourless chocolate cake, and I want to visit myself and check out the other gluten-free goodies!

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. The day we visit I find two deliciously healthy and moist gluten-free muffins – one carrot and the other banana.

LifePath is a center for personal growth and wellness of body, mind, and spirit. It has served the international community for over a decade, and offers programs for learning, healing, and retreat in their centuries-old villa.

Pura Vida Cafe in San Miguel de Allende
Pura Vida Store/Cafe with the owner, Alicia Wilson Rivero, in the doorway.

Also on Pila Seca Street, just across from LifePath, I come across a wonderful little shop which sells a unique array of one-of-a-kind merchandise. The store opened in July 2007 with the philosophy of supporting artists and exposing people to an eclectic mix of local, national and international products. Their collection includes distinctive jewelry, interesting furniture, clothing, creative greeting cards and a variety of home decor and furnishings.

Mixta in San Miguel de Allende
Mixta sells unique pieces from local and international artists.

Our friend, Elisabeth, suggests we dine at Tacos don Felix (15th Fray Juan de San Miguel) before we leave, so Friday we hail a cab and venture out of the historic district. We arrive at the restaurant on the early side and easily get a table for four. As the evening passes the tables fill up with Mexican families and local ex-pats. Hungry for some veggies we start with a salad for four – greens, jicama, tomatoes, onions, carrots are piled on the platter. Known for their tacos we all get the taco sampler. 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 the owners young son is very official in his white jacket. After dinner the hostess happily calls a cab for us.

Tacos don Felix Kitchen in San Miguel de Allende
A budding restaurateur in the kitchen at Tacos don Felix.
Outdoor bar at Tacos don Felix in San Miguel de Allende
Waiting for our cab at the outdoor bar of Tacos don Felix.

As I look in the cupboard to see what needs eating before we leave early next week, I discover a bag of Pamela’s Gluten-free Classic Vanilla Cake Mix. Brought along in my suitcase from the U.S. I decide this mix is not getting a roundtrip ticket. Besides I have a few other acquisitions to pack… So, I decide to bake a Lime Poundcake (following the directions on the bag, but adding lime juice and making it dairy free by using olive oil instead of butter). We are having a little dinner party so Jay gets creative with the fresh blueberries – cooking them briefly in tequila and a bit of agave… the result is outrageously delicious!

Gluten-free lime poundcake with tequila blueberry compote
Gluten-free lime poundcake with tequila blueberry compote and fresh raspberries.

Today we take our last Sunday morning walk around the Jardin Botanica. Located on a hilltop northeast of town, this 217 acre area is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Today as we do our silent walk around the sanctuary three sheep surprise us as we round a curve on the path.

Sheep along the path at Jardin Botanica in San Miguel de Allende
Three sheep surprise us along the path.
Horse grazing, Jardin Botanica, San Miguel de Allende
As the sheep head up a side path we notice this horse gazing at us.
View of San Miguel de Allende from the Jardin Botanica.
Our last glorious view of San Miguel from up at the Jardin Botanica.

Walking down the hill into town for breakfast we spot Suites Santo Domingo on Callejon Santo Domingo 16. Elisabeth has friends coming who are looking for a place to stay so we venture in and look around the lovely property.

Suites Santo Domingo in San Miguel de Allende
An antique collection off the entry of Suites Santo Domingo.
Suites Santo Domingo courtyard in San Miguel de Allende
We peer into the inviting courtyard of Suites Santo Domingo.

Our walks always end with breakfast and today we go to Cafe de la Parroquia. They have a lovely patio with a central fountain artfully decorated with yellow roses this morning. Delicious fresh mini baguettes come with a wonderful avocado salsa or butter and &  jam. Good Americana coffee, normal & decaf. Many varieties of egg dishes are on the menu. We enjoy scrambled eggs with ham, onion & Serrano pepper; a omellette with potato, ham, onion, parsley & zucchini, scrambled eggs with chorizo, a green drink and fresh carrot juice. The service is very good and the owner stops by to thank us for coming in.

Cafe La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Our breakfast feast at Cafe La Parroquia.

As our month in San Miguel comes to its conclusion I will remember the joy of discovery in coming to a new place ~ the visual beauty of this historic city and the quiet dignity of the Mexican families that live and work here.

Alleyway in San Miguel de Allende
We pass a mother and her children walking down a colorful alleyway.

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”  Author, Bill Bryson

To read posts from our first three weeks in San Miguel de Allende, click below:

Oaxaca, Mexico

La Zundunga in Oaxaca, Mexico
La Zundunga a popular spot in Oaxaca, Mexico. (photo courtesy of the NY Times)

Oaxaca is another artful city in Mexico on our list to visit – read about the town, some of its culture, food, and nightlife from New York Times writer, Freda Moon…

WITH Oaxaca’s imposing Baroque churches, plant-filled courtyards and shady plazas perfect for people-watching, it’s tempting to see the city as a photogenic relic of Mexico’s colonial past. But Oaxaca City, the capital of one of the country’s poorest states and a college town teeming with students, isn’t quaint or stagnant; it’s a small but dynamic city, still emerging economically from the social unrest that put it in the international spotlight, and crippled its tourism industry, in 2006. That uprising — a protest by striking teachers that was met with police violence and led to a protracted conflict — is now history, but its legacy is everywhere in a streetscape of politically inspired stencil art, which has turned adobe walls and concrete sidewalks into a public gallery. Combined with the city’s long-established studio art scene, a vibrant cafe culture, a mescal-fueled night life and one of Mexico’s most exciting regional cuisines, Oaxaca is as cosmopolitan as it is architecturally stunning.

Link to the full article… 36 Hours: Oaxaca, Mexico

We are in San Miguel de Allende enjoying the warm sun, beautiful architecture, history, and food. Read about our adventures and take in the great photos…

San Miguel de Allende: La Primera Semana

San Miguel de Allende: Le Segundo Semana

San Miguel de Allende: Le Segundo Semana

Indian parade in San Miguel de Allende
Indian dancers and drummers parade in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The day is just dawning this Sunday morning when we hear the sound of drummers very close by… Jay quickly dresses, grabs his camera and heads out the door. Men and boys dressed as Indian dancers and drummers are parading down a nearby street, creating a rich drum beat in rolling 4/4 time, as they dance and chant together. A ragtag procession of campesinas follow, carrying an altar on their shoulders. At the head of the parade an old man carries a wire contraption, from which he launches fireworks, signaling the imminent arrival of the parade to neighbors down the road.

The morning progresses with our walk down and around the Jardin Botanica, then breakfast at Cafe Buen Dia on Callejon Pueblito. During breakfast, a new acquaintance, Ruth, recommends the tamarind margarita’s on the rooftop terrace of La Posadita. We make a mental note. Ruth is a realtor in San Miguel and has a lovely property in the historic center of the town with two rentals. Comfortably elegant and private, you can view them on VRBO: Villa and Casita.

La Posadita restaurant in San Miguel de Allende
La Posadita restaurant has amazing views, good food and tamarind margaritas.

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 margarita. It’s wonderful and intense, not like anything I’ve ever tasted. Neither of us knows what a tamarind is. (I research later and learn it is the sweet & sour fruit of a tropical tree. It looks a bit like a carob pod and is an underlying flavor in Worcestershire sauce.) In the evening sky the city lights begin to glow and twinkle and the panoramic view from La Posadita is breathtaking. Next week when our friends arrive we will definitely return for dinner… and another margarita.

San Miguel de Allende at night.
View of San Miguel de Allende at sunset.

Walking home through the Jardin we once again step into La Parroquia to absorb its quiet magnificence.

Interior of La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Evening view of La Parroquia interior
St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in San Miguel de Allende
We arrive early for a piano concert at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church.
Donkey carrying potting soil in San Miguel de Allende
Donkey carrying potting soil for sale in our neighborhood.

Peñon de los Banos, is a women-owned sustainable organic farm cooperative, a short ride from San Miguel de Allende. Jay and I are part of a field trip, organized by The Center for Global Justice, visiting the Campo (farm), to learn more about their work.

Residents of this small dairy farm have been part of a traditional ejido system for generations. Ejidos are communal lands, for growing food, shared and co-managed by the people of the community. The system was developed during ancient Aztec rule of Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced the Mexican government to do away with the ejido system, and open the land up to foreign agri-business. To read the full story, see: Peñon de los Banos, a women-owned farm cooperative.

Greenhouse at Penon del Los Banos
One of 8 greenhouses at the Penon del Los Banos Cooperative.
Comida at Penon de Los Banos
Sharing a midday meal, "comida", prepared by the women of the cooperative farm.

Cafe Teatro Athanor, just around the corner from where we live (this month) is a gem of a theater that holds about 20 people or so. Most nights they show a thoughtful foreign film and this week we saw El Mural – a UK film about the renowned Mexican artist, David Siqueiros, and his time spent in Argentina painting a mural. A political, historical and romantic drama that we recommend. But on Friday nights they have a musical event – The Magic Mystery of Flamenco – featuring two female dancers/singers, a male dancer and a wonderful classical guitarist.

Flameno in San Miguel de Allende
Flamenco performance at Cafe Teatro Athanor.

Sunday morning ritual is a walk, and the Saturday morning ritual is the outdoor Organic Market. Entering the market one of the first things you see are tables of fresh organic vegetables – lettuces, spinach, kale, tomatoes, avocados, herbs… then you notice the tables and chairs under the shade trees and the smell of tortillas grilling and coffee brewing. Pottery pots filled with chicken in green mole, lamb stew, guacamole, chorizo and egg… next week we will skip breakfast at home and eat here. And that’s not all – there are homemade breads, cheeses, baked goods, natural skin care products, fresh eggs and a small selection of hand crafted items.

Cover of San Miguel de Allende bookMany ex-pats frequent the market and today we meet John Scherber, an American ex-pat and author of San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart. His book explores the possibilities of starting an exciting new life in Mexico by sharing the experiences of 32 people who confess why they left the United States and show how their new life is more fulfilling than they ever dreamed. Imagine sitting down for a heart-to-heart conversation with people who made it happen.

Organic Farmers Market, San Miguel de Allende
Saturday Organic Farmers Market in San Miguel de Allende

Ever since American Stirling Dickinson arrived here in San Miguel de Allende in 1937, the Mexican town has been a magnet for artists and U.S. expatriates:

Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende
Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende

“In 1937, after several months spent traveling through Mexico, a gangly, 27-year-old Chicago native named Stirling Dickinson, who had been somewhat at loose ends since graduating from Princeton, got off a train in San Miguel de Allende, an arid, down-on-its-luck mountain town 166 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Taken from the ramshackle train station by a horse-drawn cart, he was dropped off at the town’s leafy main square, El Jardín. It was dawn, and the trees were erupting with the songs of a thousand birds. At the eastern side of the square stood the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, an outsize, pink-sandstone church with neo-Gothic spires, quite unlike Mexico’s traditional domed ecclesiastical buildings. The first rays of the sun glowed over mountain ridges to the east. “There was just enough light for me to see the parish church sticking out of the mist,” Dickinson would later recall. “I thought, My God, what a sight! What a place! I said to myself at that moment, I’m going to stay here.”

Click on the title to read the entire Smithsonian article by Jonathan Kandell : Under the Spell of San Miguel de Allende.

p.s. To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

San Miguel de Allende: La Primera Semana

View of San Miguel de Allende from the Jardin Botanica
View of San Miguel de Allende from the Jardin Botanica on our Sunday walk.

San Miguel is a feast for the senses… the smell of corn tortillas toasting, our first night view of La Parroquia in the Jardin, church bells ringing the hour… Enjoy a sampling of our first week in this spirited and colorful colonial town.

Callejon Pueblito in San Miguel de Allende
Heading to Cafe Buen Dia on Callejon Pueblito after our Sunday walk.

Where is San Miguel de Allende? The city is located in the far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in mountainous central Mexico, and is 170 miles from Mexico City. Historically, the town is important as being the birthplace of Ignacio Allende, whose surname was added to the town’s name in 1826, as well as the first municipality declared independent of Spanish rule by the emerging insurgent army during the Mexican War of Independence.

Casa Calderoni B & B in San Miguel de Allende
Lovely Bed & Breakfast across the street from Cafe Buen Dia

Our good friend and yoga mate, Polly, is the proud owner of a casa and casita in San Miguel. The casa is for rent by the month. We are the first renters and I have only praise for this lovely, comfortable two bedroom house. Located on Barranca just several blocks from the Jardin Principal, we are enjoying the central location and walk everywhere. For information on renting the casa, just email Polly (pollyp@centurytel.net).

Guest Casa on Barranca in San Miguel de Allende
Our charming rental home/casa for the month of January is on Barranca.
Guest casa patio in San Miguel de Allende
And has a sunny spacious patio that looks out into a courtyard.

San Miguel is known for its picturesque streets with narrow cobblestone lanes, that rise and fall over the hilly terrain, and occasionally defy colonial attempts to make an orderly grid.

A colorful alleyway off Barranca.
A colorful narrow alleyway winds its way up from Barranca.
Cultural Institute in San Miguel de Allende
Looking up at the Cultural Institute in San Miguel de Allende

The houses have solid walls against the sidewalks, painted in various colors, many with bougainvillea vines falling down the outside and the occasional iron-grated window.

Home in San Miguel de Allende
Large old home in San Miguel de Allende.

The main attraction of the town is its well-preserved historic center, filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries and has been declared a World Heritage Site.

Downtown street scene in San Miguel de Allende
The vibrant downtown in San Miguel de Allende.
Festival decorations in San Miguel de Allende
Holiday decorations adorn most streets in the downtown area during the holidays.

The Biblioteca Pública or Public Library serves as the educational and cultural heart of San Miguel, providing bicultural resources for both the Mexican and foreign population. This library was established by Helen Wale, a Canadian, who wanted to reach out to local children and started the first children’s library in her home. It is the largest privately funded, publicly accessible library in Mexico with the second largest English language book collection. More than a library, one can relax and dine at Café Santa Ana; read Atencion San Miguel, the library’s weekly bilingual newspaper which covers local news, issues and events (published every Friday); and enjoy Teatro Santa Ana’s presentations of lectures, concerts, plays and films.

Mural in the public library, San Miguel de Allende
Mural in the Biblioteca Pública or Public Library.

To the far south of the historic center is Parque Juárez or Juarez Park. This park was established at the beginning of the 20th century on the banks of a river in French style with fountains, decorative pools, wrought iron benches, old bridges and footpaths.

Sculpture in Juarez Park, San Miguel de Allende.
One of several wood sculptures in Juarez Park, San Miguel de Allende.
Public laundry in San Miguel de Allende
On the east side of the park, the stone tubs of the outdoor public laundry are still in use.

This week while walking around the city, Jay and I came upon a lost puppy on a quiet path. After inquiring around the immediate area for an owner, I carried her back to our rental casa. I had read about The S.P.A. (Sociedad Protectora de Animales) in Atencion the day before. I cannot say enough about this organization which exists for the well being of abandoned and homeless dogs and cats in San Miguel and environs. The next day I delivered the puppy to Lynn who had arranged for a foster parent for the puppy until the shelter had room in their new puppy area. After meeting one of the veterinarians who pronounced the puppy very healthy, and speaking with the foster mom, I am very confident this little one will be fine… still it was a tearful goodbye.

Found puppy of San Miguel de Allende
We found and fell in love with a sweet puppy - "Pacolita" (photo courtesy of Elisabeth Mention)

Jay is my gifted and patient photographer. He uses the Nikon Coolpix 8400 8MP Digital Camera with a 3.5x Wide Angle Optical Zoom Lens. There are many old and beautiful churches in San Miguel and the shot below really shows off the wide angle lens ability of the Nikon Coolpix 8400.

Church in San Miguel de Allende
Beautiful St. Paul's Church hosts regular concerts in San Miguel de Allende.

The world is a great book, of which they who never stir from home read only one page. – Saint Augustine

p.s. To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

Mexico City International Airport Dining and Lodging

Good news, if your travels require an overnight stay at the Mexico City International Airport, you can be very comfortable. The Hilton Hotel located in Terminal One at the airport has complimentary high speed internet service, comfortable rooms, and an attractive bar and restaurant. During our recent stay the hotel staff was very helpful and told us about several restaurants in Terminal One that had received good reviews. We felt like exploring a little versus staying in the confines of the Hilton.

Mexico City Airport Hilton and dining options
Mexico City Airport Terminal One with the Hilton, Casa Avila, and Bistro Mosaico.

In Terminal One there is a food court with lots of options for quick dining and a few actually looked fairly healthy. Sit down restaurants included a steak house, a mexican cantina, a bistro and a spanish restaurant. Casa Avila was our choice. Out of the fray on a second floor balcony the menu had a nice array of spanish entrees and some good sounding salads. As soon as we walked in we were taken care of in the best sense. An English language menu was presented and care was taken to help me chose an entree that would be gluten-free.

We started by sharing the Mediterranean Salad, a nice balance of flavors with the greens – salty olives & Serrano ham with the sweeter tastes of figs, tomatoes, and apples slices that all came together with a herb vinaigrette. Favorites on the menu include shrimp wrapped in bacon with black rice, paella, and oxtail stew. Some of the dishes are an assimilation of Spanish and Mexican cuisine: seasoned pork tacos, red snapper with clams, squid, and pimento, beef in a green pepper sauce. I chose the Shrimp with Black Rice served on an asparagus cream sauce and Jay decided on the Paella filled with pork, spanish sausage, chicken, mussels, clams and a prawn. A half bottle of a very nice Chilean Merlot recommended by the server made for a lovely meal. Very full we resisted the tempting tray of desserts that was presented.

The next morning we rose early to get a little breakfast before our 3.5 hour shuttle bus ride to San Miguel de Allende on (Bajio Go Shuttle). Bistro Mosaic caught our eye as the menu had a nice selection of egg dishes. Jay was very happy with the Huevos Veracruz he ordered and I went with a simple Spinach Omelette which was fine. My side order of thick-cut bacon was not cooked crispy as I prefer but Jay loved it.

To read our posts from the subsequent visit to San Miguel de Allende, click below:

Las Vegas, New Mexico

Las Vegas, New Mexico is laid out in the traditional Spanish Colonial style, with a central plaza surrounded by buildings which could serve as fortifications in case of attack. An important consideration in 1835 when it was founded. The town soon prospered as a stop on the Santa Fe Trail which was a 19th-century transportation route through central North America that connected Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Las Vegas, New Mexico, Plaza
Central Plaza in Las Vegas, New Mexico
Close-up of a tree in the Central Plaza.
Close-up of a tree in the Central Plaza.

We were not familiar with Las Vegas, N.M. Jay’s cousin suggested we stop in as we made our way to her home in Santa Fe. Turns out it was a boomtown in its time, and has more than 900 buildings on the state and National Register of Historic Places.

Las Vegas, New Mexico, architecture
One of many restored buildings in Las Vegas, NM.

In the 1969 movie Easy Rider, Las Vegas, New Mexico, is the town where the two bikers ride behind a parade, are arrested for “parading without a permit,” and meet Jack Nicholson’s character in jail. And most of the 2007 Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men was filmed here.

Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas, NM
Plaza Hotel, built in 1881 and site of the first reunion of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders in 1899.

The arrival of the railroad on July 4, 1879 brought with it businesses and people, both respectable and questionable. Among the notorious characters were such legends of the Old West as: dentist Doc Holliday and his girlfriend Big Nose Kate, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Mysterious Dave Mather, Hoodoo Brown, and Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler.

When the Spanish-American War was declared in 1898, Theodore Roosevelt resigned from the Navy Department. With the aid of U.S. Army Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt assembled an improbable regiment of Ivy Leaguers, cowboys, Native Americans, African-Americans, and Western Territory land speculators. This group of men, which became known as the Rough Riders, trained for four weeks in the Texas desert and then set sail for Cuba. Over the course of the summer, Roosevelt’s Rough Riders fought valiantly, and sometimes recklessly, in the Cuban foothills, incurring casualties at a far greater rate than the Spanish. Roosevelt kept a detailed diary from the time he left Washington until his triumphant return from Cuba later that year, and his account of the battle was published as Rough Riders in 1899.

Historic Las Vegas, NM, Fire Station
Historic Las Vegas, NM, Fire Station

This September day the town is pretty quiet as we stretch our legs with a walk around the plaza. Many artists now live in the area and we buy a few cards at the El Zócalo Cooperative Art Gallery. A member-operated cooperative gallery on the historic Las Vegas Plaza featuring the work of over 15 diverse local artists. From there we walk over to the historic Plaza Hotel, newly restored and know as the “Belle of the Southwest” when it was built in 1882.

Las Vegas is situated between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on one side and the Great Plains on the other. Nearby are state parks and the 1.6-million acre Santa Fe National Forest, one of the five National Forests in New Mexico. The Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, 6 miles southeast of the city, provides an important resting, feeding, and wintering area for migrating geese, ducks, and cranes.

So ends our quick tour of Las Vegas… we are eager to get to Santa Fe, a little over an hour away, and our base for the next five days.