Saturday, August 17, 2019

Discovering Puebla

Way back in May I promised to post about the cities in Mexico's high plateau we visited earlier this year. We spent the second half of February exploring these historic cities that aren't as often visited.  Our first stop was Puebla, located south and east of of Mexico City, founded in 1531 and features a large Colonial centre. It was founded in 1531 and is now a world heritage site because of its variety of architectural styles ranging from Renaissance to Mexican Baroque.

Many of the buildings are decorated with the Talavera tiles which are produced in workshops all over the city.

These tiles are hand-painted with Spanish and Moorish-inspired designs.  We visited a couple of workshops and drooled over the beautiful ceramic plates and tiles.Tiles are also used to decorate the traditional kitchens with their wood fired stoves that are found in many of the wonderful family-run restaurants in Puebla.

Here's the showroom of one of the best-known Talavera workshops. You can see that they do beautiful work. We didn't bring home any dishes though, just a couple of lovely tiles for gifts.

Puebla also has a several artisan markets with quality work by Indigenous people who live in outlying villages.

Plus it has a huge public market in a very old building.

We stayed for three nights in a lovely B&B within walking distance of the lovely zocalo so we managed to see a lot.

The zocalo was a lovely spot to have coffee and plan a day of sightseeing. It was frequented by lots of locals on bicycles and with dogs and people doing their shopping, as well as tourists.  I would definitely recommend Puebla as a place to visit that is quite different from Mexico City. Puebla has a lot to offer visitors and in spite of being a big industrial city it's easy to get around and has a charming centre.

On our last day there we took a taxi out to Cholula, a small city south of Puebla that is home to what we were told was the largest pyramid in the world.                                                                                                                                                                                                              Here's what Wikipedia says about it: The most important tourist attraction of the city is the Great Pyramid with the Nuestra SeƱora de los Remedios sanctuary on top. At first glance, the pyramid looks like a hill as most of it is overgrown. The south side of the pyramid has been excavated and there is a network of tunnels inside. The pyramid and church receive about 220,000 visitors each year, and on certain special occasions such as the spring equinox and the feast of the Virgin of the Remedies, there can be up to 20,000 visitors at a time. From the top of the pyramid, in the sanctuary atrium, it is possible to see the Malinche, Popocatepetl, Iztccihuatl and Pico de Orizaba volcanoes in the far eastern horizon.

It seems that for centuries they didn't know that there was a pyramid underneath the hill just outside the town.  The Spanish built a church built on top of the hill (above left), which you can walk up from the town.  On the way up the hill you can look down to see some of the excavations that are still underway.  

We were able to able to take a tour through some of the tunnels within the pyramid beneath the hill, but sadly the museum explaining the pyramid and its history was closed.

The photo above is taken from an arcade on the main plaza beside a pretty church.  Cholula is kind of touristy because there are a lot of day trippers from Puebla but we found it a great place to spend an interesting day.

Now that I've started posting again my plan is to do one on a few of Mexico's other high plateau towns that we visited in February. I may have more time in the next few weeks because I am going in to hospital on Monday for a total knee replacement and it will be a few weeks after that before I'm out and about. 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Looking back on Mexico City

We spent two weeks in Mexico City in February and just now I'm getting around to posting some details of what we did there.  We were lucky enough to have a home exchange in the central part of the city, down by the Zocalo where all the high end hotels and restaurants are, as well as many incredible museums--all within easy walking distance.

The apartment we were staying in was on the sixth floor with a terrace that looked out over the sunset. We enjoyed a couple of  dinners there with our friends Liz and Ritchie...when we weren't sampling the amazing restaurants in CDMX.

It was great to have this place to rest after days of exploring museums,  markets, parks and places to eat.

The only problem was that the elevator was broken the entire two weeks we were there so we had to hoof it up six flights of stairs every time we came in.  Let me tell you, at an altitude of over 7,000 feet you really are breathing hard by the time you get to the top.

Mexico City is huge as you can see from this photo taken from the top of the Latin American Trade Tower. But it's easy to get around with the metro, buses, and taxis, which are all really cheap.

This is the Palacio des Bellas Artes with its gorgeous tiled domes. This place is world famous and hosts art exhibits (sadly we missed the Matisse exhibit)... and theatrical performances. We went to see the Ballet Folklorico there, a very professional performance of dances from regions all over Mexico.

Here's the famous Tiffany glass curtain on the stage.

One of the most famous and foodie markets in the city is the Mercado San Juan, just a short walk from our apartment. here you can buy just about anything you can think of to eat, including a variety of insects, which are apparently very popular in Mexico.  We chose not to indulge, rather we selected some meats and cheeses on delicious bread.

We ran into insects later though when I ordered a salad at the patio restaurant of the Museum of Anthropology. The salad sounded delicious but it featured something called  chapulines, which I couldn't translate. It turns out these are dried crickets and it wasn't until my forkful of salad was almost to my mouth that I recognized what I was eating--just in time to fling the thing to the ground and shriek. The waiter found it pretty funny that I couldn't eat the salad, but he humoured me by bringing a new salad without bugs. t seems that Mexico has the world's highest number of edible insects and they serve them everywhere. Maybe I can work up to actually trying one--but it's something that is definitely not on my bucket list.

Something I have wanted to try was Chiles Nogales, a classic Mexican dish of poblano peppers stuffed with ground turkey in a creamy walnut sauce garnished with pomegranate seeds. It was absolutely delicious. Mexico City has some incredibly good restaurants that serve elegant, classic Mexican food at very reasonable prices. Our friends Liz and Ritchie were really impressed with the cuisine they enjoyed there.

They also enjoyed the handicraft markets, the craft museum, the parks and the statuary, and the variety of artistic benches--well we all did. A highlight once again was seeing the larger than life murals by Diego Rivera.

A couple of time we left the centro and want to Roma Norte and Condessa to walk around. These are upscale neighbourhoods, as evidenced by the dog walkers on the boulevards--and the well-stocked wine stores.

We didn't see any stray dogs in Mexico City. They were either hanging out with their owners or being taken for walks by professional dog walkers. 

Once again we were entranced by this city of 25 million plus people. There's still more we would like to see there.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Seattle getaway with the girls

Once in a while it's just a blast to get out of town for some girl time. And that's what happened this week.  Four friends took off for Seattle for two nights in a VRBO, flying in a float plane from Victoria's inner harbour to Seattle's Lake Union. Here are some highlights of our trip

View of the Olympic Peninsula from the float plane. The weather was like this the whole three days.

The four of us waiting for lunch in a lovely Parisian style bistro called Le Pichet, once we took the bus into downtown Seattle. It almost felt as though we were in France.

From left to right, me, my sister Jan, and friends Laura and Liz.

The first afternoon we took a gourmet Seattle walking tour and visited six different restaurants serving fabulous food and drink. My favourite was (I think) the clam chowder at the Steelhead Cafe, made from Alaska razor clams with truffle oil. Or maybe it was the sourdough pasta. Or maybe Orfeo's polenta with steak and wine reduction sauce. Hard to say. It was all fabulous. Plus we got some recommendations for other go-to eating spots. This is our guide holding forth at the Steelhead cafe.

After an afternoon of eating we took a walk around the Pike Place market and then retreated to our condo for some rest and relaxation. Here are the girls hanging out in Belltown looking out onto leafy oak trees. It was a great location, halfway between the Space Needle and the Pike Place Market.

There were several highlights the next day, including shopping at Macy's, Saks 5th Avenue discount store, and Nordstrom's Rack. Everyone purchased a little something.  For me the Chihuly Glass Museum and Garden was stellar. I've seen some of his glass art in other gardens but this purpose-built museum showed every aspect of his astounding creativity with glass from chandeliers, to installations in colour coordinated gardens, to amazingly large colourful bowls.

Here are my friends looking ready for the next adventure after our visit to the museum. I kind of like the black and white image.

We were walking back towards our condo when about 25 police cards with sirens screamed by followed by fire trucks and emergency vehicles.

This continued through our dinner at a Thai restaurant so when we passed a fire hall with the door open and some firemen hanging out, Liz and Laura decided to ask them what had been going on. They told us it had been a domestic dispute involving guns. But then we continued chatting and Liz jokingly asked if they'd give us a ride home on the fire truck. To our immense surprise they agreed to do so.

And so the next thing we knew we were in the big truck with four firemen to take us a few blocks to our VRBO.  It was a first for all of us.

They even let us take photos so we could revisit the moment.

On our last day three of us took a 90 minute Segway tour of Seattle. I'd never been on one of these before and was somewhat hesitant but it was so much fun. After a half hour orientation we took off along the waterfront and up and down the hills and through Seattle Centre. The Segway is really  intuitive to operate and it's super fun. I had a smile on my face for the whole trip. The next time Harry and I go traveling we are for sure going to do this, as well as find a walking food tasting tour. 

Our flight home left Lake Union at 4:00 pm and we were landed before 5:00. What a fantastic getaway!