Merida

Merida is an hour and half flight from Mexico City – its a colonial town in the centre of the Yucatan province – also one of the hottest spots of Mexico as its central. we stayed in a boutique hotel, housed in an historic building just steps away from Palacio Canton, Yucatan’s anthropology museum. it was hacienda style with a lap pool in the centre of the garden, and although it did breakfast, it didn’t have a restaurant. It took us a while to warm to Merida, it’s not as obviously pretty as San Miguel de Allende, or Oaxaca – a blend of provincial and cosmopolitan, heritage and modern, its charm reveals itself with its peoples who are full of warmth and happiness, enjoying the cities squares and many events that the town puts on for the locals – dancing, music – at first you see a mix of colonial buildings, 1950’s interspersed with tumble down unused buildings…. parts of which remind me of Havana. the streets are named by numbers and are in a grid . The Main Street being Calle 60, with numerous boutiques, restaurants and a lot of squares radiating from the street. walk down to the Cathedral in Plaza de Independecia and there always seems to be some entertainment going on in the square. strangely its the least touristy of the squares, the others filled with restaurants and bars and locals selling hammocks and embroidered tops. there are a lot of shops selling guayaba shirts, the traditional shirts for men with embroidery ; you need to check that they are not cheap copies, but there are a few good co operative shops around and a few artisan selling more finer handiwork. my favourite was Kukul Boutique, which was a bit more pricey than the usual stuff, but very lovely individual pieces, especially the cute children’s embroidered clothes. I always buy myself a handicraft item to remind me of the places.

Avenue de Montejo is a long wide Main Street, sometimes known as the Champs Elysees de Mexico. its lined with restaurants and shops and lots of live performing musicians, street buskers and artisan sellers; at first I thought it felt like LA, but in fact it was visited by lots of locals and Mexican tourists too. As its hot by the day, average 35C, its much more comfortable to walk around as the sun is going down. Plaza Montejo is where they set up a stage and host traditional folklore dance and music and singing – its where the locals all congregate and is really fun to see. it was actually very nice to be amongst all the locals enjoying these outdoor events once the heat of the day has gone by. Apparently every Thursday in Plaza Santa Lucia, there is singing, which has been an tradition for more than 50 years – la serenata. On a sunday morning the long Avenue de Montejo is closed for cars and locals cycle up and down with their kids enjoying a car free zone

there are a lot of restaurants to choose from, but we ate lunch at Chaya Maya, which is alongside the Parque Santa Lucia, housed in a pink building, there is a lovely central courtyard full of tropical plants, a collonade filled with tables – a lofty colonial style, which is very atmospheric – you can watch the ladies making the lovely tortillas as you come into the restaurant. Food is typically Mexican traditional. Note that breakfast is as big a meal as lunch, but we mostly ate a big lunch followed by a lighter meal of tacos, panuchas, Salbutes which are lightly fried tortillas . These are simply filled with chicken or beef, spinach, onions, so are both nutritious and tasty and light. There are also lots of choices for vegetarians and vegans. Tamales are soft corn tortillas wrapped up. another good place for lunch or dinner is Hacienda Teya – more modern in style, but very clean and tasty food. There are a lot of modern designed restaurants in Mexico, so you can do a mix of traditional or contemporary.

There are also many hidden inner courtyards which are little markets – some selling art, some just food and drink – this whole concept of food stalls all in one place where you choose what you fancy and then sit down seems to be a worldwide thing now.

Another interesting shop is Ensemble Artisan – a collaboration of design and crafts, supporting local artisan and making sure that they are paid fairly. There were so many beautiful items from wooden stools, woven textiles, stone bowls and embroidered cushions, and it ensures that the craftsperson is being paid fairly.

Walk down calle 47 – a street full of trendy bars and restaurants – apparently they are trying to revive this street, and so you will see beautiful restored Casas with courtyards laid out for dinner alongside derelict properties. we ate in Mikaela’s, a modern Mexican restaurant, which would not look out of place in London or Barcelona. Lunch at Oliva – an Italian is very good Italian food if you would like a change from Mexican. Monday did seem a day when a lot of the restaurants are closed. The food was pretty good and the prices cheaper than London, though higher than when I was there previously a few years ago. Covid seems to have really hiked up hotel and restaurants prices throughout the world. we strolled back via Ave Montejo and had a drink in Bar Impala – a 1950’s style diner that plays a lot of Elvis. A lot of Mexico seems to have had a boom in the 50’s and hence there are a lot of these buildings alongside the colonial style. Merida is definitely a mish mash of architecture, waning towards Havana derelict but there is definitely a charm to the city; the locals have a quiet melancholy about them and everywhere they serve you with respect and kindness and warmth.

take a walk down to the market – Lucas de Galvert, just a few blocks from the main square. it was just what we expected, bustling, full of locals, selling everything from fish, fruit, baskets, hammocks. we wondered where the locals bought their fresh food, as there are very few supermarkets.

one of the main reasons Merida is popular is because its relatively close to much of the Mayan ruins, the coastline with its fishing villages, and the Cenotes, natural phenomena pools of water. we decided to do one trip out from Merida, to the Cenotes, of which there are many to go to in the surrounding area. These natural pools of water, some hidden underground in caves are a big attraction, but the water to swim in is so amazing. we went to Santa Barbara, which was about a 45 minute drive away as there are 3 together that you can visit. one you have to climb through a hole in the rock and then they have built wooden steps down, but it really is worth the visit. Swimming in the open air ones are so magical – they are basically sink holes, which in Mayan days were seen as very spiritual places, and also a big water source, which is why many of the Mayan ruins are around the Cenotes. we actually booked a private taxi who took us there, but then on the way back we stopped in the local towns.

we absolutely fell in love with Homun, which was just holding their annual fiesta. There was a makeshift bullring with metal structure faced with hay to create the walls – access was by steep ladders on the outside. Apparently there were rodeo shows and bulls, with their horns sawed off, which we saw being delivered in a truck. it was such a colourful event, watching the young boys in their rodeo outfits, the religious processions, and the locals dressing up for their celebrations.

I found driving through those villages with their many pastel painted houses, their interesting colourful churches as pleasurable as the big tourists sights.

Mexico City

it’s actually my fourth time to Mexico, but as Mexico is so big, there is so much to see without ever getting tired of visiting.  I remember the first time was when I was pregnant with Maude, which must have been over 23 years ago.  Mexico City has definitely changed since then, a thriving city where design and culture just seem to grow with each of my visits. 

Maude had just graduated from Uni with a modern language degree and decided to spend the summer in Mexico;  we had some flight vouchers to use up since 2020 and Covid prevented travel, so we decided to join her for part of her trip.  we arrived in Mexico City late in the evening, staying at Hotel Casa 9.  we didn’t know what to expect – usually we book bigger hotels with all the usual facilities of concierge, restaurants, but this was house in a palacio style old house in the Condessa area.  as Maude had booked an airbnb with a family, it made sense to choose somewhere close to her.  this was a different experience, more like staying in an apartment, but sharing with 3 other people.  there is one large enrrance salon, probably triple height with large windows leading onto a balcony overlooking a beautiful tropical garden.  the rooms were around the courtyard.  it was beautifully designed with retro style furniture and there was a lovely collection of books and an hono bar for coffee and drinks.  breakfast was served on the terrace or in the lovely big room;  it really suited us because the area is made for walking and taking coffees in all the numerous trendy cafes.  

it felt like New York with its juice bars, coffee shops, but the wide boulevard streets were lined with tress and tropical plants – its a suburban area full of locals walking their dogs, so felt very safe.  we had fresh juice in Ojo de Agua  – sitting on the sidewalk watching life go by – its very different to downtown Mexico with is much more tourist driven.  we ate lunch in the Green Corner, which was also a health food shop on Avenida Mazatlan – I was amazed how much stuff you can get in there from the well branded herbal teas, chia seeds, etc…   it was especially great for Maude who is vegan.  i did notice that now most menus offer at least a few vegan options, and several vegetarian too.  i think that worldwide veganism is making its mark, and especially with the younger generation. 

We visited 2 museums, the Gallery Museo Tamayo – a wonderful brutalist designed space showing contemporary art and then the Museo de Arte Moderno, which is set in the nearby Chapultepec Park.   There is some amazing Mexican art in the Modern Art gallery and just nearby is the circular library, which is hosting the diaries of Frida Kahlo at the moment.  You will find that on a sunday, a lot of the museums are free. Palacio de Bellas Artes has some amazing murals, including some famous ones by Diego Rivera. Museo Diego Rivera is a little private gallery that houses the Alameda park mural, which Diego paints 100 characters who represent Mexican society and tells a story of life in the park. All the murals are fascinating to see close up.

We have always visited the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera house, which is now a museum in Coyoacan, but this time we decided to opt for other things, but I would highly recommend them for first time visitors. we did try to get tickets for Luis Barragan museum, but as the tickets are now sold online a week before the day you require, it is so difficult to get tickets for a particular day. we missed buying them by a few seconds, managed to get them in the basket online, but then by the time we put in the credit card, they were all sold out….. next time…. Trotsky’s house and the Anthropology museum are also high on a must see list. we did do a boat trip on Xochimilcho though as the last time we did it, the children were very little. its very touristy, but its still a fun thing to do. Reminding you that Mexico City was once all built on a series of lakes – until the Spanish drained the canals and lakes in the 16C in their search for gold and treasure. I love that families take the boats to have their family get togethers, taking picnics or gathering their food from the passing boats who are cooking up local specialities. you can be serenaded by boats of mariachis – its a colourful bustling hour of fun. something the kids will definitely like.

what you need to work out is distances – Mexico is so big, it can take up to 45 mins to get to say Frida Kahlo museum – Ubers are very efficient, and are very cheap. the local yellow taxis are not that much more, but seem harder to get and apparently as uber drivers are regulated and you don’t give them any cash, its quite a safe way to get around. some of the Ubers we got cost only £2, and to the airport, we were only paying £3 – it all depends on the time of day, the traffic…… so if you are in a certain area, I would explore that area for food and culture, rather than spend another hour crossing town.

There is also a castle in Chapultepec Park which you can climb to the top and apparently have great views of Mexico City. I have never managed to do this. watching the indigenous peoples dance, and perform their ceremonies is very interesting around the main square Downtown and around the Cathedral – you can also see the ruins from cities and temples that have been discovered – one recent find was a circular wall built of skulls – many skulls, probably those who have been sacrificed in the belief that the next morning wouldn’t appear, unless they appease the gods.

We had wonderful food at Azul Condessa, Ave Neuvon Leon – fine Mexican style in a traditional setting.  You can watch the tortillas being made at the front of the restaurant.  There is also a branch of Azul Historical Downtown, set in a courtyard. Caracol de mar is a modern Mexican restaurant serving mainly seafood and fish, but all beautifully presented. Again set in a courtyard of a historical building, its a pleasant place to sit and all around are little boutique shops. Churreria El Moro is a noisy busy cafe that sells churros and chocolate. its been going since the 1930’s and its definitely a place that the locals queue for their cinnamon churros (long tubes of doughnuts that they dip in a thick chocolate sauce). Restaurant Tetetlan is housed in a horse stable in Jardines del Pedegral, an elegant suburb on the outskirts of town, restored recently by an art collector who still lives in the original adjoining house, which was originally designed by Luis Barragan – the acclaimed Mexican architect famous for colour, light, shape and form. there are a few private houses that you can go and see, we did see one last time we went, and they are worth the visit.

There are lots of interesting restaurants, from local cafes to high end fine dining – some are just great interiors with atmosphere worth popping into and even just getting a coffee and snack. Sanborns de los Azulejos has a great 50’s style interior, they are like mini department stores, but there are a few in Mexico City. La Opera Bar, which is close to the historical centre and Cathedral is housed in a lovely 19C building.

we were only there for a couple of days, but there is always so much to see and do, but like any city, it can be tiring.

summer solstice

today is the longest day of the year and the shortest night and is officially the start of summer.

Primrose Hill is is famous for pagans and druids to visit on summer solstice. The hill’s position to the north of London, offers a great view of the city, and makes it a prime location from which to “charm” London.

As well as Stonehenge another place that is frequented is Parliament Hill – was once known as Traitors’ Hill, as during the English Civil War, it was occupied by troops loyal to the English Parliament. The hill is not, as the name might suggest, home to the Houses of Parliament – though it seems possible that its name, together with its ability to give good views over London, was used by the Druids. Many Druids now believe that the hill – known to them as the Llandin, from a Welsh name signifying a “High-place of worship – is part of a sacred grid. A ley line between here and the White Hill in the Tower of London is to them the Midsummer’s day azimuth – the line in which the sun rises on Midsummer’s day.

With the Tower of London, we have come to the third primary location of “Druid London”. For example, in 1956, the Ceremony of the Spring Equinox was renewed at the Bryn Gwyn or Tower of London. The site was, of course, the primary royal residence for much of Britain’s history. It remains connected with the tradition of sacred kingship, through the presence of the nine ravens.

I am sure Stonehenge would be an amazing place to celebrate with its mythical stones.

in spain, its celebrated on 23rd June and is celebrated by people gathering around a bonfire, eating and drinking and teens jumping over fires.

seville

We always like to stay a night in either Seville or Malaga on the way to Vejer – its a good opportunity to experience the colourful and vibrant Spanish city life, and then go to a smaller town and the sea. This time we flew into Faro, Portugal and visited a friend and then drove over the border to Seville, about 2 hours.   It’s amazing that there is no time difference in Portugal, but as soon as you cross that border,  you are an hour ahead.  a lovely hotel right next to the border is the Grand House Hotel , St Antonio, with the beautiful surrounding beaches of the Algarve.

Seville is a difficult city to navigate around in a car – I would really suggest parking in a car park near the centre and then walking in – getting caught in those narrow old streets can be not only frustrating, but also nerve racking.

Seville is the perfect city to visit for the weekend.  We stay at the lovely hotel Casas de la Juderia, perfectly situated in the old quarter, or nearby the 1950’s style Hotel Fernando III.  A friend just recently stayed at the Eme Catedral Seville, right opposite the Cathedral and of course there is the  Hotel Alfonso VIII which is ultimate luxury.

Bear in mind that Seville is always hotter than the coast, and not recommended for visiting in the summer months – great for the early evenings, but you can’t walk around in the day without getting hot and bothered.  start by crossing the bridge for a walk along the river, watching the rowers go by, have a drink on calle Betis, Triana , then cross back to the imposing cathedral and make your way through the windy streets of the Barrio Cruz taking in some of the many tapas bars.

There are so many good places to eat, but eating tapas in a variety of restaurants is a good start, especially on an evening when it is cooler. For many years we have eaten at restaurant modesto, it’s a trusted restaurant popular with the locals and next to the Jardins de Murillo.  Other favourites are la bodeguita gongora,  bar alfalfa, taberna aguilas, and Mamaraacha for more modern tapas. E. Morales is a lovely old traditional bar,  as well as Bodega Diaz Salazar. Tapas in Cerveceria La Giralda is quite atmospheric, though in a busy street, but is housed in an old hamman and the tapas is usually quite reliable.   my all time favourite area is Alfalfa, its not so touristy, young and vibrant with real life – there are also some great flamenco  shops and antiques in this area, especially on street acetres.

seville’s marie luisa park  is undoubtedly one of my favourite parks in Europe  with its famed Plaza de Espana – which was the centrepiece of the expo, this decorative Palace has beautiful tile work that represents each of the provinces of Spain.   at another end of the park is the Plaza de las Palomas (Plaza of the the Doves), where you find the home of many doves.  you will find that the  children love to feed the doves – you can usually buy seeds to feed them with.     the landscape architect, Nicolas Forestier who redesigned the gardens in 1929 also designed the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.    either take a leisurely walk through the gardens, or take a horse and carriage ride through the wonderful old city of Seville and through the park too.

 

 

 

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Exhibitions

I always seem to see exhibitions all at once – and then nothing for ages – but there is so much to see at the moment. All the exhibitions are so very different, some poignant and full of messages, others showing the dark side of the artists’ personality, and some just portraits. I find that paintings that are pretty or nice to look at with no obvious message can be criticised for being frivolous – for me art can be so many ways of self expression – it shouldn’t be judged whether its serious or not. Art is there for everyone to appreciate – we all have our own tastes….

Louise Bourgeois ends tomorrow; in intriguing mix of art pieces – some very dark and abstract, some feminine with a twist, some delicately put together with pretty textures and shades. Her personal life experience obviously had a great impact on her and this is very interesting to see. The Hayward Gallery is the perfect space to show her work.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye are beautifully painted stories about fictitious people, either from found images or from her imagination. They speak identity and representation and are colourful and almost graphic in style – at Tate Britain. I particularly love the characterful clothes.

Also at Tate Britain is Walter Sickert, which I absolutely loved – dark, mysterious, his images of naked women in Camden are challenging and must have been controversial at its time; he liked to picture everything theatrical from performers in music halls, individuals from the newspaper articles – he definitely liked to paint real people at work.

Whistler’s women in white is romantic depictions of women dressed in white, and especially the model Joanna Hifferman. her red hair went onto influence the pre raphaelites and their style of portraiture – at Royal Academy. wildly romantic and ethereal – I too have taken to wearing white dresses …..

At the Whitechapel we can revisit the artists studio from 1920 – 2020 – an interesting curation of works from lesser known artists to Picasso, Schiele and Bacon. its celebrating a century of image makers and artists through their studio. Some are actually painting in their studio, some are actual mock ups of their studio – its a loosely named theme, but is an interesting mix and gives you an opportunity to see a wide range of artists in one exhibition.

Postwar Modern at the Barbican brings together an amazing display of paintings, sculptures and photography from 1945 -1965. This is an incredible body of work put together – and introduced me to some amazing artists and photographers previously unknown.

There is so much to see in London at the moment; its definitely inspiring looking at the real paintings – we recognise so many of them from postcards and books, but actually seeing art in life is the best thing. Purchasing a national art pass allows you to visit galleries at half price, so if you are going to see a few, it maybe worth it. I now buy a gallery membership for my friends’ birthday presents, it gives them so much pleasure to be able to visit freely, so worth putting on your birthday list.

April feria

I am so missing visiting spain with its wonderful traditions and colour. its about this time in Vejer de la Fronterra that the annual  april feria occurs 10 days after Easter.  Easter, or Semana Santa as it is called in Spain is such a big occasion , more important than Xmas, with its evening street procession carrying the statues of Jesus  on Good Friday and  Easter Sunday bull run in the narrow streets, it is a sight that you never forget. The feria, that follows is a mini version of the seville feria, which if you have never seen is just spectacular, horses and carriages,  flamenco dresses and full of colour and splendour;  vejer’s feria is held in the new town, which is only 15 mins walk from my house, but mainly consists of a few casitas (tents for eating drinking and dancing) and an enormous fairground!  but for 4 nights there will be numerous flamenco shows and horse riding events.   the local school children clamber on their floats and there is a procession through the old town to the new town – there are so many festival days in spain, you need to check the calendars before you go so that you can watch them – there is a feria in almost every town in spain at some time of the year – its what makes Spain a wonderful country still steeped in tradition and fun.  sadly due to the pandemic, it will have been more than a year of disruption – so I am not even sure what celebrations will be happening;  I am so hoping that by the end of the year, life will resume as it used to be……

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Easter eggs

I always remember these eggs that talented artist Mary Mathieson, made for our ilovegorgeous shoot several years ago.

Barrier Reef Dress, Sea Green, 698
Harliquin Dress, Sea Green, 482
Harliquin Dress, Sea Green, 487
Barrier Reef Dress, Sea Green, 685_1

Easter is a Christian festival and for Christians the custom of giving eggs at Easter celebrates new life. The first eggs given at Easter were birds eggs. These eggs were painted in bright colours to give them further meaning as a gift. We still paint bird eggs today but usually only chicken eggs.  my daughter loves to paint eggs, but you do have to be really gentle or they will easily break.    you need to pierce a hole at either end blow out all the liquid inside the egg, use for scrambled eggs, or bake a cake!  then perch your egg on a barbecue stick or on a chopstick and paint with acrylic paints.  you can always thread pretty ribbon through the holes and hang them – they look pretty cute. 

Southwold Pier

i love piers, there is something romantic, dreamy and nostalgic about them……

I am lucky to have Southwold so close to the cottage – its the perfect seaside town with its long sandy beach, beach huts and pier, fish market and harbour, plus a sprinkling of good restaurants and shops.   I hope to get to the cottage a lot more in 2020;  you can rent it directly through my website limeblossom cottage. 

I recently discovered the little neighbouring village of Wangford, hidden from the A12, its a tiny village with a great grocery shop and pub, the Angel Inn.  Suffolk is full of hidden treasures just waiting to be discovered.

Rye

now that Robert is working at weekends, we have decided to explore parts of UK that we have rarely visited. we asked a friend for a recommendation of a hotel and ended up at the Gallivant on Camber Sands. Typically the weather was grim, grey, cold and drizzly, so we first headed for the ancient town of Rye – a very pretty town, up and down steep cobbled streets. we parked by the quay and ambled around the street. I have never seen so many gift and vintage shops in one little old town – the good thing was that there were no chains on the main street.

my favourite were Merchant and Mills, an emporium of cottons in so many colours and patterns, it really made me want to get my machine out and learn to sew. They also sell so many useful gift ideas, such as little sewing kits, great array of scissors, and lovely patterns to make workwear style clothes.

I bought some lovely vintage towels from Soap and Salvation, a lovely old chapel selling a mix of vintage and craft style objects; there are a great church beeswax candles from Puckhaber and handwoven rugs and baskets from Rae. Also delicious hand made chocolate from Rye Chocolates we ate lunch at the Fig, nice and healthy. there are a lot of places to choose from, so it depends how you feel on the day. Mermaid street is a lovely old street that looks like a film set – one tip, don’t wear heels whilst walking around, the cobbles were difficult with boots on as quite uneven.

Gallivant hotel is a 10 min drive away, right by Camber Sands – a short, but steep climb over the dunes takes you to the vast beach. The tide was out when we arrived, and there was the typical film crew on the beach, but it really is a beautiful sandy beach

Its worth a drive to Rye harbour, watching the boats come in – there is a pub there to grab a drink and a bite to eat, strangely selling Greek food, rather than fish, which is what you would expect. you could get fish and chips. Just 10 mins away is Westchelsea beach – a pebble beach, but much easier to reach from the roadside.

its definitely a great day trip out; we stayed the night at the Gallivant, where the food was very good, dinner and breakfast. I even managed to do an early morning yoga stretch class – there are 2 daily classes plus and meditation walk on offer. Its pricey, but I think that all hotels in the UK seem highly priced at present; Jeake’s House looked quite quaint in the old town of Rye. it really is a breath of fresh air, taking you away from the despair that we seem to be surrounded by at present.