Venice in winter

It was exactly 3 years ago that we were in Venice – celebrating our 25th anniversary – Covid was present in Italy, but at that time, it was relatively unknown about its vulnerability and the devastation it was going to cause on a worldwide scale. It was really nice to revisit for our 28th anniversary. We booked again with Kirker who have a reliable standard of quality with their hotels and restaurant recommendations. It also helps with the general flow of arriving, getting to the hotel and transportation. We took a very early flight, so arrived in time for lunch, eating at Do Forni, a very good classic Italian restaurant, and full of locals. There are so many restaurants in Venice, and generally quite expensive, so it can be quite daunting deciding; this was also not far to walk from the hotel – Hotel Splendid. Again, this hotel was reasonably priced for it’s prime position and the rooms very comfortable. Do Forni is a more pricey restaurant, but it obviously depends on how many courses you are going to eat, but the food was very good – we just chose a pasta dish each. In the evening we ate in a local family trattoria, Trattoria Alla Scala, which offered fish at a very reasonable price and was very good. Other restaurants that we ate in was Osteria all Testiere, a small restaurant with great sea food, not a big menu, but its all very fresh, seasonal and considered. It’s one of our favourites and we went there last time we came. You definitely have to book in advance as this only seats 22 people.

There are several types of eateries, Bacaro are essentially bars serving snacks and sandwiches, but this is all you need if a big dinner is planned or you have had a major lunch. Good areas for Bacaro are Dorsodoro, around the Academia, or near the Guggenheim museum – much less tourist area with locals standing at the bars enjoying their drinks and taking in the selection of Italian snacks. Around the Rialto fish and fruit market are lots of eating places, a good choice for snacks and light meals; it is very atmospheric there. The market is a wonderful place to see real living, in what is essentially a tourist city. Wonder at the colourful variety of fruit and vegetables – some so unusual.

Anniversary dinner was at Bistro de Venise – another old school classic Italian eatery – think Sheekey’s – lots of waiters milling around in black and white, incredible service, delicious food, much more refined, but simply presented in plain bowls and tableware. Again depending on how many courses and drinks you choose, expect to pay around 140 euros for 2 with wine. Our final lunch was at a trattoria – pizza, pasta and salad, very reasonable and tasty – Barbanera – the pizza and homemade tiramisu delicious – this was around 60 euros for 2. our big treat was to have a drink in the atmospheric Gritti Palace Bar, full of glamour and sophistication, but a lovely place to sit and escape the rain. its very romantic and comfortable and we just had a beer and tea around 5pm. It’s ideal for a pre dinner drink, but of course you are paying for the privilege to sit there, but see it as a theatrical treat. The Danielli Hotel is a similar experience, but we did find that a lot of the usual things that are open in January were closed for most of January – maybe Covid had an effect, but there did seem to be less open. Lots of places were refurbishing ready for Carnival which starts early February in Venice.

The weather was not great, a lot of rain and grey clouds, but we used the time to visit some galleries. Peggy Guggenheim is always good to see, and worth walking around the surrounding streets, as quieter and less tourist; Venini – an incredible installation of glass lamps designed by Carlos Scarpa – some reconstructed from 1961. Again use the opportunity to take the boat to the next stop along to the Giudecca and feel what it is like being in a part of Venice where people live rather than just tourists, its just a short boat ride opposite San Marco. Boat rides are very expensive – 9.50 euros each journey, so its worth buying a 2 day ticket which allows you to freely get on and off, this was 35 Euros per person for 2 days. Lee Miller and Man Ray – another interesting exhibition showing the relationship between 2 great photographers, housed in another lovely Palacio. It’s a good chance to see inside these Palacios and see the grandness of 16C living. note that a lot of the galleries seem to close on a Tuesday, so good to plan your day in advance.

Venice is for walking and getting lost, you can try and look at the map, but it just frustrates you, give yourself enough time to find your proposed destination and if you get lost, even google maps can be confusing –  you will always find a sign directing you towards either san marco or the rialto bridge, which means you can then hop onto a boat back to your hotel or a recognisable site.  by the end of our visit, we realised that it was actually quicker walking everywhere than taking the boats. Another museum worth seeing, the museo fortuny, a beautiful old palazzo owned by the artist Mariano Fortuny Madrazo, which he restored to be his home and work studio, producing beautiful fabrics, artworks and clothes – remember those gorgeous pleated evening dresses;  on his death, his wife left the property to the council as a preservation of art, and so now it houses temporary exhibitions.

You can also read about our other Venice trips on previous blogs. https://christinawilson.wordpress.com/2020/01/24/venice-in-january/

Holbox

From Chichin Itza, we took a taxi to Cancun airport to pick up our daughter Maude who was in Mexico City – you could hire a car, but we felt it was easier to take a driver. remember that distances are quite big, but the fares are at least half the price it would be in the UK, and in some cases a third of the price. It’s another 2 and half hours from Cancun to Holbox ferry, which I guess is why it is not yet innundated with tourists; from the ferry you pick up a public ferry or a private taxi boat, which costs about £12 more. The boat journey takes about 20- 25 mins and then you hop onto a buggie taxi to your hotel. The island is not too big, but it still took about 20 mins to walk from the town centre to the part of the beach we were staying at, which was at the furthest end – much quieter, less built up and fewer hotels and bars. I would definitely recommend that end – it was the end away from Punta Mosquito. The crystal clear waters are just so warm and make the journey worth it. We usually go to the less touristy west coast, Costa Carayes, but the sea is the Pacific and much wavier and not so clear and calm, but nonetheless beautiful.

A lot of the places that you stay offer bikes to get around, but its actually lovely to walk into town once the sun is going down, along the beach to the town. We stayed in 2 places, Ensuenos Beach Club and Puerta Azul – the first is more family orientated and the second is adults only. Both are very close to the sea, the 2nd being right on the beach and both not overly expensive. The first place offered a nicer communal area, pool and rooftop terrace, but the rooms can be dark.

There are lots of local places to eat along the beach front, but definitely more choices in town. We loved the food at Luuma – Mexican/Oriental fusion but very tasty. There was also a very good wood burning pizza close to our hotel, otherwise the food is the typical Mexican tacos etc… unfortunately as we were at the least tourist and more beautiful part of the island we did have no electricity at times and no running water in the bathrooms – especially at Luuma, where they had to use the pool water to feed the toilets – this happens when there have been big storms, which had just happened the day we had arrived. Apparently water is pumped from the mainland, but some hotels do seem to have their own back up. Remember that this is a Robinson Crusoe type island – and fortunately the sea is crystal clear so bathing in the sea became a several day habit.

We left Holbox for Cancun airport to return to Mexico City for the night; in hindsight we should have just flown directly back from Cancun to London, but we had already rebooked our tickets before planning our trip, but in fact it was nice to get back to the city, see some more sights and unlike our last time, not have to deal with the stress of missing a connecting flight. we stayed at Downtown Hotel, which is so central to the main square, its a perfect place to stay for one night. Caracol de Mar is a modern Mexican restaurant serving mainly seafood, but beautifully presented; it is set in a courtyard of a historical building and is a very pleasant place to sit and enjoy the good food. in contrast, the Churreria El Moro is a noisy busy cafe that sells churros and chocolate. From the 1930’s, its where the locals queue for their cinnamon churros – long tubes of sugared donuts dipped in chocolate – even vegan for Maude…… it’s very difficult to not resist those sweet local treats.

All in all the trip was a great adventure – fast moving – and ideally it would have been great to have stayed an extra night in each place, but if you want a taste of Mexico with its culture and beautiful seas, then I would highly recommend this journey we took.

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.

majorelle blue

the Majorelle gardens are painted with this amazing blue – it reminds me of the lovely  casa polopa hotel  with its beautiful stencilled walls and also of the frida kahlo house.   you can try the majorelle blue paint from bristol paints – it would indeed be a bold statement to paint one of your walls or your garden this intense shade of blue.  stencilling is another lovely idea to try – if it looks really terrible, paint it in and start again in another colour!

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visit the beautiful jardin majorelle in marrakesh,  originally landscaped by Jacques Majorelle, the gardens opened in 1947 to the public, but after his death in the 60’s, the gardens were acquired by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge who kept up its existence and enchanting condition.   it truly is a tropical paradise with its water lily ponds, intense blue and exotic plants.

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For an offbeat travel experience in the Mexico City area, you really must consider this visit to the Museo Frida Kahlo in Coyoacan. Hidden behind high cobalt blue walls at the corner of Londres and Allende in this charming southwestern suburb, the museo is where the surrealist artist Frida Kahlo was born, grew up and later lived with her muralist husband Diego Rivera, from 1941 until her death at age 47 in 1954. Fascinating not only for the collections and personal effects of the two great artists it contains, the museum also affords a window on the lifestyles of affluent Mexican bohemians during the first half of this century.  its a long time since i have been back to mexico, but this will be high on my list again.

a repost from Mexico

so today is Robert’s birthday and we are remembering the wonderful trip that we had this time last year to celebrate his big birthday.  as travel is a no no at the moment, it makes it even more mournful as we have always gone somewhere to celebrate, whether it be a night in a hotel, dinner in a restaurant, or some exciting new country.   so instead here we are at home with most of the family –  getting a take away – and a beautiful cake made by Maude.   we can do double celebration next year……

Reposted from June 2019

our next stage of the trip was a one hour internal flight to Oaxaca.  neither Robert nor I had been there before, but it came highly recommended.  typically our mid morning flight was cancelled and we had to reschedule on another airline – travelling is never easy and this actually happened to us before in Mexico.

we arrived in Oaxaca to peace and calm;  the whole town is low rise except for the beautiful churches;  and surrounded by mountains.   renowned for its arts, crafts, textiles and pottery it really is picture perfect.  it also doesn’t feel too touristy, though we were not there for the weekend, which I think makes a difference.  we stayed centrally in an old converted convent Quinta Real – which in its time was also a prison, a school and since the late 70’s became a luxury hotel.  the rooms are old style, and perfectly fine, but what is stunning are the cloisters, gardens and balconies and courtyards.  there is also a beautiful old laundry in one of the courtyards with its old stone bowls.

we would walk down to the main square and through to the mercado, which was full of crafts, spices and locals selling their food and wares.  you just have to walk around and soak in the colour and daily life – whats amazing is that locals still seem to be buying and selling amongst themselves;  of course there are tourists too, but it really feels like the origins of life  – communities coming from the local outlying villages to sell their wares and bring home food for their families.  strangely although the streets are busy there is always a calmness and serenity – a haven from the madness of Mexico City.

there are lots of places to eat. we were recommended Origin, La Pitiona (which has a great roof terrace with views all round) and Casa Oaxaca, but these are more led towards tourists and wealthy Mexicans – who also seem to be visiting their own culture.   the standard of food is very good, but you still have to be careful as its easy to get an upset tummy.  we were pleasantly surprised by the simple and beautiful design of Oaxaca from everything to their architecture, interior design, table wear………  lots of locals still wear their national costumes for everyday wear, not just to attract tourists.  its nice to be romantic about this way of living, but in reality most of them are relatively poor, bringing not just their wares, but their young families onto the streets, whilst trying to make a living.

we took a walk up to the the cultural museum, Santa Domingo de Guzman where there is an incredible collection of wares, retelling the history of Oaxaca through its crafts, jewellery and figurines.  helped by the discovery of a treasure chest of jewellery found in one of the tombs in the church;  its not only interesting, but housed in an incredibly beautiful building overlooking the most exquisite cactus garden.   you can visit these wondrous gardens, the Botanical gardens and I highly recommend it;  its a guided visit, but so calm and serene in there, with amazing succulent plants.

shopping wise, there are probably too many stalls and workshops to choose from, but you will find some lovely artisan pieces.  we brought an empty bag anticipating that we would bring back some things, which we surely did.  we found pots in Collective 1050, Tiendita del Barro, which sold the lovely black and terracotta pottery.  I bought a lovely embroidered top from Ambar 5 de Mayo 408.  woven scarves from la cash de las artesanias, Andrea cruz Bernal. a skirt and baskets from la Plaza Artesanias de Oaxaca Matamoros 103 – you really just have to wander and stroll into the numerous courtyards and workshops.

also worth visiting is the private collection of one family – Museo Belber Jimenez- a beautiful collection of jewellery and clothes housed around a courtyard house.  there are so many galleries to wander in and out of.  if you have time, which we didn’t manage – there are lots of day trips to the local artisan villages – some making pottery, textiles, wooden carved animals, – choose your route.  there are ruins to see too, but I would recommend the ruins outside of Mexico City, Teotihucan.

it became our daily ritual to amble to the main square and see the different activities – on our last day the local school set up stage and gave their own show of singing, performance and playing instruments;  I will miss the locals dancing impromptu in the streets, the mariachis waiting to entertain and serenade, the selling of wares and the passing of giggling school children.

the saddest part of Oaxaca is seeing the young girls sat on the sides of the streets with their young babies and children seeing food and money…..  it seems hard to escape people living on the streets wherever you visit in the world…..

cuba and doctors

I am guessing you are all feeling like me, scared, anxious,  unsure and frustrated of the unknown;  none of us has ever experienced anything like this before, so there is nothing to compare or learn from.  its a frightening and unsettling time to live in, but strangely it has also brought the worse and best out of people.   its made me realise how lucky we were, how we have lived our lives without fear and freely – now just taking a walk in the park is a simple pleasure.  I love the community spirit though, please help your vulnerable neighbours and keep to the rules so that we can keep the simple pleasures going.

as you may know, we recently went to Venice for our 25th wedding anniversary, and we were so lucky to have a stress free time there, and yet a couple of weeks after we returned, it all went downhill.  It really makes me cry to see the amount of deaths that one country has experienced.  but then I heard that 50 medical staff from Cuba have flown into help Italy – what an amazing and selfless task!  I know that each country has its own worries and problems, but I do think that as this is a worldwide problem, we should work together globally too – I hope that whoever finds the vaccine first shares this worldwide rather than tries to make money out of it.  I was shocked to find out that medicine is the one thing that countries can profit from.

I also forgot that it was in 2014 that Cuba again helped out with the ebola crises.  Cuba is renowned for its wonderful medicine and wealth of doctors, but now i have utter admiration for its compassionate and selfless offer of treating patients .

sadly world travel seems a long way away, but i still have fond memories of my visit to havana a few years ago, its definitely somewhere that I would recommend to take the children to before it completely changes and becomes modernised like the rest of the western world.   i loved the architecture, the tumbledown crumbling buildings, the vintage cars and especially the interiors, some of which had been restored for tourists, but better that than they collapse into dust.
the french pharmacy was founded in 1882, but turned into a the Pharmaceutical Museum in 1964 – medicinal herbs were processed here, which are the source of drugs.  there are beautiful medicinal jars, books and utensils – all showing the history of medications available to the public.  situated on the main shopping street, Obispo, between mercaderes and san ignacio, Havana, entrance is free and its well worth a visit.  like most of restored old Havana, everything seems to be a museum.  i guess that as there is nothing much to sell, then all these beautiful buildings can only serve to be museums.    you can still however buy a few basic medicines, and you can see locals choosing from the small display cabinet amongst the exhibition pieces.

there is something soothing about old pharmacies, there used to be lots in london, but they seem to be getting modernised all the time.   dont know of any old ones now with the beautiful cabinets and jars except in Paris.   you would have to scour the old markets like portobello to find stuff like this.   i have old chemistry bottles in my bathroom, filled with bubble bath and shampoo.

Venice in January

we have been to venice at least 5 times in the last 20 years and yet each time feels like we make a new discovery – by staying in different areas, it means that you explore new alleys and squares – of which there are so many in venice.   this time as we were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary,  we stayed at Monaco and Grand Canal, just one block away from St Mark’s Square and close to the famous Harry’s Bar and  Danieli Hotel   we have never stayed at the Danielli, despite its wonderfully atmospheric entrance and reception –  as apparently the rooms are not so comfy and its very overpriced and you can always drop into have a drink at any time of day – its a great place to stop for a pre dinner drink.    we always book our Venice trip with Kirker Travel as they make the whole visit very easy, organising the hotel, the transportation to and from the hotel and at this time of year, you definitely get a better deal with rooms; I always used to think that rooms were just a place to stay in a city as long as they are comfortable, but in Venice its such a pleasure to wake up to an amazing view.   this hotel also has a lovely restaurant with views directly onto the Grand Canal where you have breakfast. All in all it was very romantic waking up to the sun rising over the gondolas.

I always recommend waking up early if you can and  take a walk to st marks square before breakfast,  nobody there, just the restaurateurs setting up their chairs and you feel that Venice is just yours.

one thing to note in venice is that a lot of the well known restaurants close on a sunday and monday, and also January is when they redecorate, especially if there has been high tides,  so it meant finding new places to eat.  we relied on our concierge, who last recommended  our favourite place for lunch  al paradiso – other good restaurants are corte sconta, vecia cavana and Anticho Carampane, difficult to find, but wonderful food and atmosphere.  generally i do think that the food in a lot of the smaller trattorias is decent and pretty much similar, but there are a few higher end restaurants where the food is a little more special, but you do seem to pay for that difference.  remember that the speciality in venice is seafood and of course home made fresh pasta.  we were really lucky with the weather for the first 2 days, so we were able to sit out in one of the many squares and enjoy coffee and I would definitely recommend the terrace of the Monaco and Grand Canal restaurant – siting on the water’s edge watching guests arrive in the water taxis at lunchtime, its a bit of glamour and very good food.  Da Forno is a very traditional restaurant, popular with Venetian locals, not cheap though.   Alle Testieri was recommended to us and in fact Robert booked this restaurant for our anniversary celebration meal – but then realised that he got the date wrong!  luckily we were there for our actual date,  but this really simple restaurant is very small, only about 8 tables,  only serves seafood and fish, but is very  clean and good food.   our last evening was at the Taverna la Fenice, which is right by the famous opera theatre La Fenice, and had a lovely atmosphere and very good food.  we noticed that you could also just have a drink there too.    its definitely hit and miss with restaurants in Venice – some are very expensive and over priced, but I guess you realise that Venice is like that –  a lot of the restaurants offer a lunch menu which is good value, or you can do what we did a lot, which was to share meals and then have pasta – nobody seems to care about this and in fact sometimes there is far too much food on your plate and restaurants like la Fenice offer half portions of most main dishes.

we never plan much in Venice, we decide on an area to make our destination and then twist and turn on the many canals and bridges to take in Venetian life;  naturally the further you escape from St Marks Square, the more you witness real locals living in the many squares – tourists do tend to stick to the main sites and 2 main bridges.  we popped into the Teatro Opera Fenice for a tour whilst there was no performance – definitely worth a visit – tickets for the  opera are very expensive;  there are so many wondrous churches to visit, most of them displaying famous paintings by Titian and other artists of the time.  our last day sadly was rain all day, which we knew was going to be, so we designated this as our gallery day;  we visited the Palazzo Cavelli Franchetti museum with my favourite Morandi still lives and the newly built Willmotte foundation, which as exhibiting black and white photographs from the 1950’s all of Venice.    a lot of things were closed but then this just makes you visit new things.  of course you must see Peggy Guggenheim, the Olivetti showroom  and the Fortuny collection;  my favourite part of galleries is seeing the amazing palazzos themselves, the scale of the interiors are just spectacular.

The Realto market is a must, only open until lunchtime, but its great to see the fish and the vegetable sellers.   I don’t know why, but Venice seems to be one of those places that you can visit over and over again and never get bored;  it never changes physically, and yet it intrigues you each time.   the light is so special, maybe its all the water and the fact that there are no straight roads or canals, so each walk takes on a different way – you can’t help but get lost, even with your google maps.  I definitely suggest not putting that on, unless you are absolutely frustrated or else you miss the wonderful colour and splendour of whats around you, rather than looking at your phone all the time…….

 

paris for the day

last week Maria and I took our annual day trip to Paris on a £65  return ticket – you have to book in advance and usually go midweek, but its worth it.   we arrived around 11am, in time to have breakfast in one of the many street cafes – we always start at rue Buci, with its vibrant fruit and flower market – its a great spot to watch the world go by –  luckily it was not raining and not too cold, so we could sit outside.  buy a book of 10 metro tickets – you may not use them all that day, but they are worth keeping for the next visit and means that there is no queuing for tickets – you can get these on Eurostar when you get your coffee.  the metro gets you from one side of paris to the other very quickly.   Paris is a city for walking around, enjoying the sights and streets – its amazing that its just over 2 hours from Kings Cross by train.  there are  always so many wonderful exhibitions and this time we chose Charlotte Perriand at the Louis Vuitton foundation.  It was the first time that I had seen this building, which is very similar to the Guggenheim in Bilbao – same architect, same complex planes – more a feat of engineering than of wonderful architectural design.  however the roof terraces give a wonderful view of Paris and the adjoining park Bois de Bologne.  Charlotte Perriand was an amazing designer, born at the beginning of the 20C century – she not only designed furniture and interiors, but also buildings and kit form studio spaces.   She worked with Le Corbusier and spent some years in Japan where she was highly influenced by their simple traditional design with wood.  she also took lots of photographs of nature;  all round a very interesting woman;  the exhibition is dotted throughout the whole building over 4 floors of gallery space, and includes reconstructions of the rooms that she designed.  Definitely worth the trip,  though you do need a good couple of hours to see this exhibition.

although Paris is perfect for strolling, its good to plan a route bearing in mind closing times.   we then headed  back towards le Marais and Merci,   for a final bit of shopping, which we knew stayed open later and then back to gare de Nord for a train that returned us into london before 11pm.  its tiring, but so pleasurable, inspiring and is a lovely way to spend a day with a good friend.

fortunately my friend maria is very organised at seeing whats on and always organises this, but you can sign up for offers with eurostar.

 

last part of our Mexico trip…

we returned to Mexico city for one more day before our flight home;  partly as I remember on our last visit (over 10 years ago) we nearly missed our connection due to our internal flight being overbooked.  this time our flight couldn’t land and circled the city, so we were again an hour late.  be warned Mexico airport is a major busy airport that does not separate incoming and outgoing passengers, so you end up walking over 20 mins through a crowded airport to reclaim your baggage.

this time we chose to stay in Polanco – an upmarket district where most of the hotels seem to be situated;  by the way we booked our hotels either through booking.com under their offers or directly with the hotels who all seem to have advanced offers that are similar to booking.com.  you can definitely pay much less than their listed prices.    we stayed at hotel las Alcobas, a contrast to our last hotel, very modern, super efficient with amazing personal service.  we were also situated a close walk from the big Chapultepec Park, on which borders the amazing Antropologia museum and lovely local districts for art and restaurants.   Mexico is so big, traffic is so bad, that its essential to pick areas to stay where you intend to visit, or else you spend a long time on the roads getting from a to b.

we tried to go to the Luis Barragan studio, but we didn’t book early enough;  however the hotel suggested Casa Gilardi, the last private house that you can visit, conveniently a half hour walk from the hotel through the park.  the owners’ son meets you and explains how his father at 26 commissioned the house to be built and still lives there.  its a beautiful play of colours and space for what is a domestic size house.  the most stunning part of the house is the dining/swimming pool area and the hallway leading to it.  the windows are simply painted in yellow paint to project the colour onto the white walls.   it really amazed me how much the Mexicans embrace design and especially in the 1960’s onwards – when you stroll round the area, you see so many interesting buildings;  of course the city is a mish mash of styles, but it makes for a unique place.  nearby is an interesting independent gallery – Kurimanzutto, which is in a street full of trendy restaurants and coffee bars.

the big Anthropology museum – designed by Pedro Ramirez Vazquez  borders Cahpultepec park and is one of the best designed museums that I have seen;  not only a spectacular display of relics telling the history and beginnings of Mexico, but also surrounded by gardens with replica installations of how each era looked.  you can definitely spend half a day here;  there is a pleasant cafe/restaurant area to enjoy a drink and snack.

next to the museum there is always a free show of the dance of los Voladores. Five individuals climb to the top of a pole more than 100 feet tall. one man, known as the caporal, stands in the middle on a small, wooden platform playing the flute and drum. There is nothing to support him. There are no safety nets to catch him. One misstep and he falls to his death. the other four participants are positioned around him suspended by ropes, they launch themselves from the top of the pole, twisting like acrobats. Like birds soaring through the air, they spiral majestically 13 times as they descend to the bottom of the pole. They are the “voladores,” and this is their dance.  The Danza de los Voladores, or the Dance of the Flyers, is a tradition dating back centuries. Once practiced by the indigenous peoples of Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador as a way to connect with their gods, the tradition was partially lost after the Spanish conquest.

we also popped into the Soumaya gallery, which we passed by – the richest man in Mexico’s personal collection of art, housed in a super modern stucture;  it was a strange interior, strange collection, though the top floor with its 20C art was the best.

we ate in La Unica, a big bustling restaurant with a large courtyard – very good food, simple grilled fish and meat, especially for those who have had enough of spicy sauces.    Dulce Patria restaurant has 2 women chefs, fine cuisine at normal prices – a definite subtle taste, beautifully presented and worth visiting.   our last meal was at Entremar, again near to the hotel – a family seafood restaurant, not dissimilar to a Spanish restaurant, but of course with the Mexican twist.   the first floor overlooked the local square.  on the other side of the square is a lovely gift shop – Onora, on Miguel Hidalgo, selling high end crafts, ceramics, basket wear and textiles.  good job that we brought an empty bag to carry all our purchases home in!   it was a great place to celebrate a special birthday and although we didn’t get to a beach, it made for a very informative, interesting and relaxing week.