Tag Archives: travel

Soft Landing Oaxaca, and Teotitlan del Valle

It’s a four-and-a-half hour bus ride from Puebla CAPU to Oaxaca ADO bus station. Taxi from Puebla historic center to CAPU is 80 pesos. Bus ticket is about 450 pesos on ADO GL deluxe service. Easy. Scenic. The road dips and rises through mountains studded with mature saguaro and nopal cactus, flowing river beds (it’s the rainy season) and dramatic gorges. When going south, choose a seat on the right side of the bus.

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Prep kitchen — al fresco — at La Biznaga Restaurant

A good time to write, read, lean back and enjoy the ride. I arrived in Oaxaca on Sunday night, just in time to skip the last Guelaguetza performances on Monday but not the crowds strolling the Andador Macedonio Alcala. Or, the sounds of the festivities echoing from the Cerro del Fortin pinnacle starting at 10 a.m.

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People asked me, are you going to Guelaguetza? Did you go to Guelaguetza? I told them no. I went for the last two years, had a great time, took lots of photos and decided I didn’t need to repeat the experience for a while.

Sunday night, I discovered La Salvadora, a patio bar on Guerrero that serves great artesenal Mexican beer, sandwiches, salads, and usually has live music. A great way to land. Thanks, Hayley.

On Monday I walked over 12,000 steps Oaxaca is one of the best walking cities in Mexico with the Andador limited only to pedestrian traffic.

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Carol and David invited me to lunch at their departamento under the shadow of Basilica de Soledad on the other side of town, so I walked there, passing colonial adobe buildings in need of renovation.

Before that, I walked to ceramic Galeria Tierra Quemada and recycled glass studio Xaquixe to check out mezcal cups that my sister asked me to get for her, and then I went back again as she honed the decision.

I finished off the day with a Spanish potato and egg torta (a famed tapas) with organic salad, and a glass of excellent, reasonably priced (40 pesos) red wine at Tastevins on Murguia close to Benito Juarez, with Hayley. This place is becoming a favorite, relaxed, good food, moderately priced.

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On Tuesday, I clocked a bit over 10,000 steps. Janet and I met for a great breakfast — organic blue corn memelas with poached eggs, red and green salsa — at Cabuche before she went to work. (It’s my in-the-city-neighborhood-go-to-eating-spot.)

Handmade paper box at Xaquixe

Handmade paper box at Xaquixe

Then, a return trip to Tierra Quemada (meaning burnt earth) for the final order and shipping.

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And a return to the Xaquixe shop on 5 de Mayo between Abasolo and Constitucion to oggle the handmade paper and glassware once again.

Prepping for comida corrida at La Biznaga

Prepping for comida corrida at La Biznaga

After taking care of fingers and toes from all the pavement pounding, I met Martha and Hayley at La Biznaga for a great vegetarian spinach lasagna (Tuesday is vegetarian comida corrida). The portions are so generous, there was enough for lunch today.

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My good friend and taxista Abraham picked me up late afternoon and I arrived back in Teotitlan del Valle. I don’t have internet connection where I live, so I’m now at my Teoti go-to restaurant Tierra Antigua for reliable service and an excellent horchata.

This Saturday Abraham and Rosa are getting married. It’s been in the planning for a year. I’ve known Abraham for about eight years — smart, always reliable, taught himself English, muy dulce — very sweet. He asked me to be the madrina (godmother) of the photography! It’s my gift to them, and I’m excited about participating in all the related activities and then sharing them with you. I have permission!

Soft landing!

 

Stopover Puebla: Taking a Break Between Mexico City and Oaxaca

Puebla, Mexico, has so much to offer that a two to four-day stopover going to or from Oaxaca to Mexico City is usually in my travel plans. I like to fly out of Mexico City back and forth to the USA (it’s cheaper) and usually plan a visit to this most original Spanish city in the Americas at least twice a year.

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What’s to do here? Plenty. Including vibrant street life and good music.

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Talavera tile gazing for starters. All the buildings in the historic center of the city are decorated and glazed with tiles harkening back to Moorish influences in Spain. If you want Spain in the New World with a touch of the Alhambra in Granada, come here.

Go antique shopping with La Quinta de San Antonio.

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Eat. Traditional food preparation rotates around the seasons based on what is freshly available for ingredients. Now, in July and August, it’s Chiles en Nogada, This is a poblano chile, usually mild, cooked, slit, stuffed with a mix of pork, almonds, apples, peaches, raisins, pears, cinnamon and a lot of other things! The fruit and seasonings are also vaguely North African, another remnant of Moorish influence brought to Mexico. Get the best at El Mural de los Poblanos.

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If you come to Puebla in October, you’ll be treated to Huaxmole, a hearty stew made with goat or pork. The essential ingredient is the seed from the guaje tree pod to give it the unique flavor.

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Shop. Go to Uriarte for gorgeous talavera to set your table. Go to the new government operated Best of Puebla food shop on Palafox y Mendoza just off the Zocalo to stuff your bags with goodies. Get out on the street for weekend arts vendors selling everything from Huichol art to cemitas.

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Visit Cholula, Pueblo Magico. There are two Cholulas: San Pedro Cholula and San Andres Cholula.

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Go first to San Pedro, start with breakfast at Restaurant Ciudad Sagrada, garden haven with amazing food. Fortified, climb the pyramid to the Our Lady of the Remedies (Remedios), then watch the voladores. Meander the 16th century Franciscan churches. They say there are over 300 churches in Puebla.

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Go shopping at the best folk art boutiques in town — La Monarca, Bosque de Oyamel — operated by Celia Ruiz.

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Don’t miss OCHO30 for beer and botanas. No one else does!

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Make your way to adjacent San Andres Cholula when you need a thirst quencher Michelada and your tummy starts to rumble. Oder the Michelada “sin salsa” — pure Victoria beer and lime juice, with a heavily salt and chile rimmed glass.

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You will be amazed at the great kitsch, excellent hospitality and delicious food. Especially the pizza! Beware. It’s packed and you may have to wait. But, well worth it.

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With owner Agustino and friends Celia and Peter on left. OCHO30 pizza.

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Take your taxi back to your hotel and collapse.

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Where to Stay: Descanseria Hotel for Business or Pleasure, owned by the El Mural de los Poblanos restaurant group, with excellent location, restaurant, ambience and prices.

How to Get There: ADO GL bus from Oaxaca to Puebla CAPU, about $45 USD. Estrella Roja bus directly from Mexico City airport to Puebla 4 Poniente bus terminal, about $16 USD.

Where to Eat Chiles en Nogadas: El Mural de los Poblanos.

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Today, I return to Oaxaca, just in time for the last Guelaguetza performance and the best street life in Mexico.

Bully Pulpit: Why Not Fly Aeromexico to Oaxaca?

Aeromexico, are you listening? Why is it so hard to have a decent customer service experience with your airline company? I’ve been debating whether to publish this and decided to go ahead. Maybe it will get a decision maker’s attention. There is no customer service feedback link on your website!

I arrived in Mexico City from the U.S. on June 4 from San Francisco on United Airlines, in time to get from Terminal One to Terminal Two and the Aeromexico counter. I wanted to buy a ticket to arrive in Oaxaca on the same day, despite the one-way ticket cost of $217 USD.  I rationalized that the cost was worth the wear and tear to avoid the overnight bus.

At the Aeromexico counter,  I pulled out my passport and credit card and gave it to the agent to buy the ticket. I signed the voucher and put my bags on the scale to weigh.  She said, I need your credit card back to charge you $50 USD for the second bag. (She was holding my ticket and my passport behind the counter.)

I said, you still have my card. She said, No, I gave it back to you.  I said, No you didn’t, and searched my wallet and handbag six times. We went back and forth: I gave it back to you. No, you didn’t.

A supervisor ( whose name is Mr. Cisneros, I was told) came out and watched as she rifled through papers and searched the counter. He did not help in the search for my missing card. In frustration, I pulled out another credit card to pay for the second bag and pushed my luggage around the side of the counter.

No, he said, blocking the way, you have to put it on the scale. I said, I already did that. She knows how much it weighs. I was traveling with my cane because of my recent knee replacement surgery, but that didn’t seem to matter either.

By now 30 minutes had passed and the window was closing on when I could board the plane. The scale was blocked by another customer.

I said, please hurry. Is there enough time for me to get through security and get on the plane? I heard him mutter under his breath, I don’t care.  

I was startled. What did you say? Did you say you don’t care if I make the plane or not?  He stared at me. I said, As a courtesy you should put my second bag through at no extra cost. You lost my credit card, I’m going to have to call the company to cancel it, it’s a huge inconvenience and I’m going to have to run to make this flight.

Mr. Cisneros was steadfast. Crossed his arms. Glared, then said, I don’t believe you. You hid the card in your purse so you could ask us to send your bag through free. Then he turned on his heels and walked away to the back.  I asked the agent to cancel the ticket and give me his name.

When I got to TAPO regional bus station and after I bought my bus ticket. I called Chase and cancelled the card. The card never turned up in my bags or luggage when I unpacked. Chase sent a new card via UPS Express to Oaxaca and I received it within three days!

What to do? Fly Volaris or Interjet to/from Oaxaca and Mexico City? Take the ADO GL or Platino bus (a six-and-a-half hour ride when there are no roadblocks)? Fly directly to Oaxaca from Houston on United Airlines? Avoid Aeromexico at all costs?

I did not buy an advance ticket on Aeromexico because if you don’t check in two hours before scheduled flight departure, they have the right to bump you. That’s happened to me before and I lost the value of the ticket. Planes are delayed. Lines at immigration and customs can be long. Odds are not good you will make a connection if you are not flying on a Delta codeshare with Aeromexico.

My friend Lee Ann who lives part of the year in Puerto Escondido, says, When you cross the border, never ask why and always look down? In many places in the world there is an attitude of why try, it is impossible to change the system.

We always look down here to avoid the potholes and pitfalls on the sidewalks so as not to stumble and fall. The subtle connotation is to look down to avoid confrontation. One becomes acculturated not to challenge authority based on upbringing and country of origin. Never asking why means accepting things as they are, of knowing that it’s not your right as a visitor to effect change. It’s a lesson I’m still learning.

Bilbao, Spain: The Guggenheim Museum and More

Jump to now, North Carolina, USA, where I am this weekend for Becky and Al’s wedding. She is a Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat friend. (Registrations for 2016 are coming in. If you want to attend, make your reservation soon.)

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And, now I’m going backward in time: To choose and edit more Spain photographs from the recent trip. My sister and I made it a point to go to Bilbao to see the spectacular Guggenheim Museum designed by architect Frank Gehry, opened in 1997. It was well worth the three-night stay on many levels.

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The New York Times thinks so, too. They just published 36 Hours in Bilbao, Spain. They have covered Bilbao and surrounding Basque country in several travel publications. Bilbao is in the fold of a river valley ringed by mountains.

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The Guggenheim Bilbao is a radical departure from its backdrop, a medieval city near the Atlantic, once a manufacturing powerhouse going through a reinvention of identity. The region is Basque. They speak Basque. Their soul is ancient, deep. Gernika (Guernica), where Franco and Hitler bombed the living daylights out of the town. Pablo Picasso captured the horror in his famously stark painting, which I saw last year in Madrid. The town is only 25 kilometers north of the Basque capital of Bilbao.

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In Bilbao, stay in the medieval old quarter along the picturesque Nervion River. You might choose, as we did, the wonderful, clean, comfortable airbnb apartment owned by charming Luisma aka Bidebarietasiete Bilbao. He provided coffee, French press, a bottle of wine and fantastic hospitality.

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This was a block away from the picturesque river, walking distance to the Guggenheim (or take a nearby tram) and just steps from incredible gourmet cheese and wine shops, and great tapas bars. Try the yogurt with sweetened carrot puree. I loved it.

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Our intention was to do a day trip up the north coast of the Bay of Biscay along the Atlantic to the coastal town of San Sebastian. But, there wasn’t enough time. So, we are saving this for another trip. Throughout the region are Michelin star restaurants worthy of attention, small villages tucked into mountain valleys unchanged by centuries, narrow, cobbled walking streets flanked by tall, colorful stucco buildings adorned with wrought iron curlicue balconies trimmed in flower baskets.

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At the Guggenheim we were mesmerized by the architecture, which many consider to be THE attraction.  We were permitted to take as many photographs as we wanted of the building. No photos of the art installations were allowed.

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The special treat was a temporary exhibit of Nikki de Saint Phalle‘s Nanas and other works, there until June 7, 2015. What do these images of women represent? Find out by clicking on her name.

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It’s not just about being black, white, fat or thin. It’s about how we think of self and our role in the world.

BilbaoGehry28-3 Out on the street (I walked 16,000 steps this day), you come across pastry shops like this one with lines out the door. I wanted to … indeed … indulge, but the line was too long.

 

 

 

Frida Kahlo Mania: See Her in the USA

Our iconic Frida Kahlo, her life, art, clothing, jewelry, pain, sorrow, tragedies, affairs and everything else worth examining about her is featured in 2015 exhibitions around the United States of America.

Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life is an exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden featuring the plants that Frida loved to wear and had in her Mexico City gardens.

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Several famous paintings shown include one of Luther Burbank who she and Rivera admired, and “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” (1940), a parting gift to Nicholas Muray, Hungarian photographer and lover.

The Burbank portrait, which I have seen many times as part of our Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico City: Art History Tour, is on loan from the Dolores Olmedo Museum.

The blockbuster Detroit Institute of Arts exhibition featuring Kahlo and Rivera will run until July 12, 2015. I know many who have bought plane tickets to go see it.

The New Yorker magazine says, “The exhibition is nothing if not an event, which is fitting, given how much of a moment Kahlo is having this year (see The Striking Absence in the Detroit Intitute of Arts’s Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Blockbuster and Frida Kahlo Love Letters Sell For $137,000—That’s Over $1,000 Per Page!).

For about the same price to travel to Detroit or New York, why not come to Mexico City for our art history tour that will take you to Frida’s paintings, Diego’s murals, Casa Azul and the Dolores Olmedo Museum where you can see it all (except those pieces out on loan!)

We have offered Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: Art History Tour multiple times a year since early 2014 to rave reviews.

Plus, you will see the amazing gardens and the endangered xoloitzcuintle, too.