San Miguel de Allende: La Tercera Semana

Cactus cutouts form tree sculpture in San Miguel de Allende.
Cactus hearts and skulls decorate a tree in the Jardin Botanica.

Each Sunday since our arrival in San Miguel de Allende we begin the day with a morning walk around the Jardin Botanica. Located on a hilltop 1.5 km northeast of town, this 217 acre area is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Today as we do our silent walk around the sanctuary we come upon this fantastic tree decorated with cactus hearts and skulls (perhaps an homage to Dia de Muertos – Day of the Dead).

Ruin on path near Botanica, San Miguel de Allende
Ruin on path near Jardin Botanica, San Miguel de Allende.
Cairn sculpture in San Miguel de Allende
Jay builds a cairn sculpture on side of path in Jardin Botanica.

Heading to town after our walk, an artful old structure exposes its bones.

Old stone wall in San Miguel de Allende
An old stone structure is art to our eyes.
Cross in electric meter, San Miguel de Allende
Even the electric meter is blessed with a cross.

A favorite activity is strolling around the city with camera in hand. Today we seem to be attracted to a certain yellow/gold color vibe.

Pizza in San Miguel de Allende
Pizza scooters lined up for the coming day's work.
Colorful San Miguel de Allende
Glorious colors surprise us on a quiet street in San Miguel de Allende.
Neighborhood juice bar, San Miguel de Allende
Neighborhood juice bars are a common sight.

January 21 is General Ignacio José de Allende’s birthday (January 21, 1769 – June 26, 1811). He was a captain of the Spanish Army in Mexico who came to sympathize with the Mexican independence movement, and attended the secret meetings organized by Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, where the possibility of an independent New Spain was discussed. He fought along with Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the first stage of the struggle, eventually succeeding him in leadership of the rebellion. In 1811 Allende was captured by Spanish colonial authorities while he was in Chihuahua and executed for treason. Each year his birthday is celebrated with a parade and all day festivities at the Jardin Principal.

General Ignacio Jose de Allende's birthday parade in San Miguel de Allende
Parade celebrating General Ignacio Jose de Allende's birthday.

To add an elegant and distinctive touch to a horse’s appearance, many of the riders create a design on their mount’s hindquarters. The most common of these designs, which are known as quarter marks, is the checkerboard pattern. A horse bearing quarter marks indicates that the owner has gone the extra mile in grooming and care.

Allende Parade in San Miguel de Allende
Many of the horses bear a quarter mark, in this case a checkerboard design.

We take a respite from the days festivities to have breakfast and shop at the Saturday Organic Market, where along with great vegetables and foodstuffs, we come across the local domestic violence booth. A blog post focused on the Market will be posted soon…

Domestic Violence booth at the Organic Market in San Miguel de Allende
Domestic Violence booth at the Organic Market in San Miguel de Allende.

From the market we head to the Jardin Principal where, amid all the birthday festivities, a wedding is under way at La Parroquia.

Wedding at La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Bride and father make their way through the crowd to La Parroquia.

Well into the evening the festivities continue with various musical guests, a full military symphony and choir.

Symphony at General Allende's birthday celebration in San Miguel de Allende
The Jardin Principal is aglow with lights and a symphony performance.

Our day comes to a satisfying conclusion at Cafe Rama, Calle Nueva #7. Known for its tapas, this Saturday evening we enjoy a fixed price tapas meal of their choice. Trusting in the chef’s abilities we relax with a bottle of wine as we received a taste delight every 10 minutes or so. Starting with a antipasto dish of 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… then a sensuous dessert finale of cappucino creme brulee and baked meringue with lemon custard and fresh strawberry sauce. Muy Bueno.

Note: Cafe Rama was able to accommodate my gluten-free needs without any problem.

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

New Years Eve in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

La Parroquia – Church of Saint Michael the Arcangel, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel

Arriving at the Jardin Principal a little before midnight, we excitedly weave our way through the crowd that is high energy and festive. Mexican families and an eclectic mix of foreign visitors fill the square and we all dance or move to the vibrant pulse of the salsa band. We peak into the grand, La Parroquia, decorated for the holidays with lights and greens, where a midnight mass is proceeding with standing room only. The doors of the church are open and sounds of the band mingle with the reading by the priest. A festive soup of sounds.

La Parroquia at night in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
The doors of the stunning La Parroquia are open during mass on New Years Eve.
Sparklers in San Miguel's Jardin Principal
Children are part of the festivities in San Miguel's Jardin Principal.
New Years Eve in Jardin Principal, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Crowds fill Jardin Principal on New Years Eve in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Merriment is in the air as the plaza continues to fill with folks of all ages and nationalities ready to welcome in 2012, most whirling a two foot long sparkler in the air. At the stroke of midnight the fireworks begin, we gape at the fabulous display, and marvel that we are here.

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

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels's Grand Place during the Christmas season.
Brussels's glorious Grand Place during the Christmas season.

Each year Winter Wonders, Brussel’s Christmas Market, fills the city – from the world-famous Grand-Place of Brussels, around the Bourse, on the Place Sainte-Catherine and on the Marché aux Poissons. Hundreds of wooden huts offering hand-crafted toys, warming mugs of mulled wine, and moules mariniere by the bucket full fill the city centre. There is an outdoor ice rink (and a small rink for toddlers), a huge Ferris wheel and Christmas carols piped through loudspeakers. The Grand Place is home to a huge Christmas tree, and the Town Hall provides the canvas for the stunning Christmas lights show. The festivities begin in late November and continue until January 1.

Jay and I spent the summer of 1976 in Europe and a few weeks in Brussels where his parents were living at the time. The Grand Place is the most exquisite and elaborate square I have ever experienced, especially in the evening when the buildings are lit. All over the world it is known for its decorative and aesthetic wealth. Considered one of the most beautiful places of the world, The Grand-Place of Brussels was registered on the World Heritage List of the UNESCO in 1998.

Victor Horta Museum staircase
Staircase in the Victor Horta Museum

Some of Brussels’ districts were developed during the heyday of Art Nouveau, and many buildings are in this style. Art Nouveau is an international philosophy and style of art, architecture and applied art—especially the decorative arts—that were most popular during 1890–1910. The name “Art Nouveau” is French for “new art”. A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in flowers and plants, but also in curved lines. Architects tried to harmonize with the natural environment. Victor Horta was a Belgium architect and designer and one of the most important names in Art Nouveau architecture. I remember visiting Victor Horta’s home/museum in Brussels with its incredible staircase.

Our favorite grater came from a very fun old second-hand shop, Les Petits Riens (little nothings), which we visited a few times with Jay’s mom. I just Googled and found a shop by the same name at 101, Rue Américaine! Sure would be fun to return and see if it really is the same one.

And the food… Belgian cuisine is characterised by the combination of French cuisine with the more hearty Flemish fare. Specialities include Brussels waffles (gaufres) and mussels (usually as “moules frites”, served with fries). The city is a stronghold of chocolate and pralines manufacturers with renowned companies like Neuhaus, Leonidas and Godiva. There are friteries throughout the city, and in tourist areas, fresh, hot, waffles are also sold on the street.

Belgian Chocolates, Grand Place, Brussels
Belgian Chocolate Shop in the Grand Place, Brussels

Jay’s parents remained in Brussels for a couple of years and when they visited us in Washington, DC a gift box of Neuhaus chocolates was always in the suitcase for me. Today’s reminiscing is inspired by a terrific article in the New York Times by Amy Thomas – Brussels: The Chocolate Trail… and includes a great list of the city’s chocolatiers.

“You have chocolate for tourists, and chocolate for Belgians,” Ms. Warner said of the national hierarchy in which chocolate produced by manufacturers like Côte d’Or and Guylian are devoured in vast quantities, but mostly by the city’s six million annual visitors. Bruxellois, Ms. Warner said, prefer the artisanal makers. “The big-name big houses are great. But seeing and tasting real handmade chocolate, while buying it from the person who made the chocolate, is something special.”

To prove her point, as we were leaving Wittamer, the century-old chocolatier in the center of the city that seduces both locals and tourists with its heritage recipes, Robbin suggested we go to Alex & Alex, a nearby Champagne and chocolate bar. Though its chocolates, made by Frederic Blondeel, aren’t made on-site, they’re acknowledged in some circles as some of the best in the city.

The bar is tucked away on one of the antiques store- and art gallery-filled streets that shoot off the Grand Sablon, Brussels’ central square. Its dark, cozy interior, along with the glass of Drappier rosé and array of square bonbons before me, was a lovely respite from the trolling chocolate tourists outside. I found the herbaceous notes of Blondeel’s basil ganache too reminiscent of pesto, but the “Alex’Perience” chocolates were another story. The first velvety impression of high-quality chocolate was followed by a flood of sweet, fruity cassis.

Amy Thomas’ new book, Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) , will be released on February 1, 2012.

If you find yourself in Brussels by all means take the train to Bruges. “Much of the enchanting city center is truly reminiscent of a fairy tale, with stone footbridges spanning picturesque canals and cobblestone streets curving past turreted manor houses”… read 36 Hours: Bruges, Belgium for the full story.

 

 

Portland, Oregon for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in Portland – what a great idea. Jay, his mom and I drive down while Jay’s brother and his family fly up. Time to relax, visit, and play for a few days in a friendly, welcoming city.

We all stay at the Hotel Vintage Plaza and take advantage of one of their AAA packages that is $140/night and includes free valet parking, a $25 gas card and a gift certificate for the mini bar. Our rooms are double queens (many of the hotels had full size beds), very spacious, and newly renovated. This is a pet friendly hotel and we all marvel at the good mannered hounds in the lobby.

Portland Hotel Vintage Plaza
Hotel Vintage Park occupies a lovely old stone & brick building

Soon after check-in we head back down to the lobby for wine hour. Oregon wines are poured while Italian bread & pizza is provided by Pazzo, the restaurant connected to the hotel. This takes the edge off our hunger but we are still weary from a long drive south so we decide to eat a light meal in the Pazzo bar. A nice trend with boutique hotels is having a restaurant connected to the hotel that is independently owned and operated. Pazzo is a gem. Comfortable with delicious Italian cuisine. We find a cozy corner in the bar and share a light meal of mushroom risotto, salad, and a pate and cheese plate. Over the next few days we dine at Pazzo for breakfast and lunch, finding their selections and quality very good. Breakfast favorites are the french toast, spinach/pancetta omelette and scramble of the day.

Daily we are out walking… on one of his solo adventures to Powell’s Bookstore, Jay comes across this bronze elephant sculpture…

Portland Bronze Elephant Sculpture
Bronze elephant sculpture in the park between Burnside and Couch Streets

A little research reveals that in October 2002, a 12-foot bronze sculpture titled Da Tung (Universal Peace), a replica of a Chinese antique dating from the late Shang Dynasty (1200-1100 BC), was installed in the park between Burnside and Couch streets. The elephant is embellished with figures from ancient Chinese mythology, and carries a baby elephant, Xiang bao bao (Baby Elephant), symbolizing that offspring shall be safe and prosperous.

Portland’s street food has a reputation and unlike other cities the vendors are out and open during the cold weather. Out taking photos we come across a block of vendors downtown, various types of buildings, carts, trailers… giving off a deliciously international blend of smells.

portland street food stand
Street food stands are quiet the day before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving morning Pazzo is closed so we step next door to Typhoon for a Thai breakfast. The fried rice with an over easy egg on top is the breakfast favorite, and a very yummy change for a gluten-free eater! As you might imagine the tea menu is huge. I settle on a pot of green tea with peppermint. Perfect for a chilly morning. Typhoon is connected to another boutique hotel, Hotel Lucia. The restrooms are in the hotel, so after breakfast we stroll over to check out the scene… the lobby is like a museum. Filled with sculpture, paintings and Photographer David Hume Kennerly’s work we spend some time looking around. A very cool sculpture made of silver crayola crayons captures our attention… but unfortunately didn’t make it into a photo!

portland hotel lucia
Art filled lobby at Portland's Hotel Lucia

After breakfast the family convenes and decides a movie is in order. It just happens that the latest Harry Potter is playing a few blocks away… so the seven of us (ages 12 to 87) take in a matinee. Turns out there are several movie theaters within walking distance of our hotel. Yippee.

We arrive on time for our 4:30 Thanksgiving dinner reservation at Heathman Restaurant in the Heathman Hotel (another easy walk). Seated within minutes of our arrival we peruse the three course fixed-price menu. Each course has several choices – some of the first course options are pumpkin soup, poached pear salad and caesar salad. The main course offerings are traditional turkey with dressing, prime rib with yorkshire pudding, stuffed pork loin, and a vegetarian option. Desserts include pumpkin napolean, flourless chocolate cake and apple cake. I choose prime rib and flourless chocolate cake – both are amazing. We learn from a staff member that they have 1300 reservations for Thanksgiving, including the buffet upstairs… we are even more impressed with the prompt service and delicious meal!

Thanksgiving Day we watch the Macy’s Day Parade in New York City on the television… the next day, Friday, at 9am we watch the Portland Macy’s Holiday Parade seated in front of our hotel (chair provided by the hotel). Great local marching bands, horses, lhamas, costumed characters, and of course … floats.

Macy's Holiday Parade Portland, OR
Macy's Holiday Parade in Portland, OR
macy's holiday parade portland OR
Raggedy Ann leads the way in the Macy's Holiday parade

Location, location, location… ours allows us to walk everywhere but there is a very cool modern streetcar system in Portland that we see constantly as we do a little Christmas shopping at Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Portland Outdoor Store, Moonstruck Chocolates…

portland, oregon, streetcar
Portland Streetcar began operations July 20, 2001 as the first modern streetcar system in the country
portland oregon outdoor store
Portland Outdoor Store - a great retreat on a rainy afternoon
portland hotel christmas tree
Christmas season begins at the Hotel Vintage Plaza

Needless to say, we are not too hungry the day after our fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, and since we have no leftovers to snack on we checkout a sushi restaurant that we have noticed on our walks… and right after dinner we head to Pioneer Courthouse Square, the place to be, starting at 5:30 pm for the annual Christmas Tree Lighting. After some musical performances and caroling a 75-foot tree lights up the square. Well you can imagine how much energy holding yourself up in a crowd takes… so as the crowd disperses some of us head to Baskin Robbins across the street for ice cream cones! And since this is our last night we go back to the hotel, check out the movie schedule and head to a movie… something fun – RED (Retired and Extremely Dangerous). As my favorite movie critic Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times concludes: “Red is neither a good movie nor a bad one. It features actors we like doing things we wish were more interesting.” Those actors being Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and others. All day Friday staff at the Hotel Vintage Plaza have been decorating the live tree in the atrium of the lobby… when we return after the movie the tree is resplendent. We have officially moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas!