Sunday Stills: Tourism

On Instagram, I came across a quote that I loved so much, I actually bought an audiobook about Mark Twain called “Around the World with Mark Twain”. The quote is:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I’m glad I bought the book because it’s very interesting, but I discovered that Mark Twain never said this.


I just read an article about an Instagrammer with over 100K followers who was caught using stock photos, sometimes adding himself to the photo or making other slight changes. The Instagrammer says he has receipts for all of the stock photos he used, but it’s disappointing to know he was posting fake experiences.


Before we went to Turkey last summer, everyone tried to warn us not to go. ISIS was going to kidnap us. When we arrived in Istanbul, the customs area was deserted.

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We enjoyed Istanbul so much and felt so safe that we go be back one day. I saw Turkish Insta-friends (women) who dressed Wow! Very sexy! (Look up: Nazila and Hatice.) I saw women dressed in all ways all over Istanbul. I had conversations and subtle interactions with women in burkas who made me feel very welcome in their city. (You can read about my experiences here.)


When we booked tours in Mexico City and Michoacán a few years ago, we were alone with the tour guide. Tourists were so afraid to visit Mexico that we had our own private tour! Two weeks after we left Michoacán, an navy admiral was ambushed and killed on the highway. (You can read our Michoacán post here!)


Before our 2016 Guatemala trip, Dan told me that www.insightcrime.org located our hotel in a zone where La Marasalvatrucha, the infamous drug gang, operate.

Also, we were planning a trip to Tikal to see the Mayan pyramids. But Tikal is in a tropical zone, and the Zika virus scare had just begun. Some airlines had announced that they were willing to cancel bookings to the most dangerous destinations.

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We saw this billboard in Guatemala City: “They freeload while you pay the bill”

We went to Guatemala and had such a good time in this interesting country that we promised ourselves that we would return. (You can read about our adventures in Guatemala here!)


Like many news stories, these turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Yes, there are dangers, but you know what?

😮 In New York at that time, gang members were cutting some pedestrians’ faces!

😮 That March, New York City announced that they had registered 18 cases of Zika virus.

😮  And if you still think you might be safer wrapping yourself under the covers and staying in bed, two years ago a construction crane fell and crashed into a building below, killing a woman who was in bed sleeping.


So, before planning your trip, perhaps you’d like to update yourself of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world or check out where were the world’s most devastating earthquakes in the past decade, but I don’t recommend it. Instead, look at the TripAdvisor forums and communicate with other travelers who have visited your destination. Sign into Instagram and follow people from all over the world to see how normal their lives are. Then get on a plane and go! Go with your eyes wide open and see the world as it really is. Stay alert to the dangers and don’t take unnecessary risks. “Explore. Dream. Discover.”

¡Órale! Gourmet Taqueria Close To NYC

In the mood for Mexican food while in New Jersey, Yelp led us to Órale Mexican Kitchen. There were several taquerias with great reviews but the photos made Órale the first choice.

Note: if you are in Manhattan, Jersey City is a two-minute ride under the river on the PATH train ($2.75). It leaves from Oculus Center, by One World Trade.

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We parked and passed another taqueria and thought, if Órale looks disappointing, we can check out this one, but right away we had a good feeling from the artwork on the restaurant facade. Inside the place was buzzing with activity. The restaurant walls are brick and filled with colorful and fun Mexican death-themed graffiti art.

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The restaurant pays attention to detail along every wall and in every corner. Beautiful, sculptured melted wax.

I always like to wash my hands after touching the menu and before touching any food. These people didn’t forget any attention to detail in the bathroom.

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The waiter brought us tortilla chips and guacamole, but also three of their own sauces, in bottles. Two were spicy (very!) and one not so much.


 

CrIspy Halibut, Maggi, Lime, Naked Guacamole, Chipotle Aioli, Corn Tortillas

I was very happy with the presentation of these beautiful crispy halibut tacos (with maggie, lime, guacamole and chipotle aioli) but these five savory, gourmet tacos cost $23! You won’t be dining here every day, but it’s a wonderful treat… sometimes… and it doesn’t lower my opinion of the restaurant. If you come on a Tuesday and are willing to pay in cash, they charge half price!

My husband ordered the carnitas tacos: Braised crisp pork belly, marinated red onions, salsa verde and cilantro, at $17! The place to save money would be the delicious desserts. They are expensive, too, but they are huge!

Órale Mexican Kitchen isn’t cheap, but it’s special. I can prepare an ordinary meal myself. I love to cook, though, so I always try to taste every ingredient used and then copy the recipe. I’ll be making the chipotle salsa and I’ll let you know how it comes out! 😉 But apart from that, I prefer to dine out less frequently but in better places.

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The New Jersey tram (light rail) system connects several nearby New Jersey cities.

While you are in Jersey City, enjoy the stunning New York City skyline at the riverfront, just a 10-minute walk from Órale Mexican Kitchen. As you walk there, you’ll pass the tram (really, light rail) that connects several New Jersey towns. The difference between a tram and a light rail is the speed. You find trams within a city.

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We will be going back, and probably soon. On the last Sunday of every month, you can enjoy mariachi music. Choose a favorite before you go (Qué Bonita Es Mi Tierra, Cuando Salga La Luna) and be ready to request it!

Are you prepared for the worst???

What would happen if your wallet and your phone were stolen while you were traveling?

A Visit to the Iconic Frida Kahlo’s La Casa Azul

Frida was so far ahead of her time. She has been called the first feminist. In spite of her intense suffering, she created powerful surrealist art, married a well-known, charismatic artist and socialized with many of the elite of her day. She had romantic affairs with both men and women. Her art focused largely on her suffering. Her honest self-portraits captured her inside and out. She was a strong woman who was not afraid to be exactly who she was.

Frida survived polio as a young child but it caused her to limp for the rest of her life, and when she was 18, she was riding in a bus when it crashed into a street tram, causing her spinal injuries that would cause her a lifetime of pain. Nothing could stop her.

“Feet,” she said, “what do I want them for if I have wings to fly?”

Frida Exposición at La Casa Azul
The exposition while we were there was called, Las apariencias engañan (Looks are deceiving)

A lot of Frida’s pain was hidden beneath orthopedic corsets and beautiful dresses. The title of the exposition, Looks are deceiving, were Frida’s own words.

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But it wasn’t just physical pain that caused Frida so much suffering. Her husband Diego Rivera was always unfaithful to her.

“I suffered two grave accidents in my life,” she once said, “One in which a streetcar knocked me down … The other accident is Diego.”

La Casa Azul, The Frida Kahlo museum

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The Frida Kahlo museum is located in the beautiful residential Coyoacán neighborhood in Mexico City. It’s called La Casa Azul (the blue house) for the name her family gave it. La Casa Azul is where Frida lived her entire life, and it’s the best place to experience Frida as an artist, a personality and a person.

As of this writing, the general admission price is $200 Mexican pesos (about $20 USD) for all non-Mexicans. You’ll want to add $30 Mexican pesos for permission to take photos.

Frida Kahlo’s kitchen
The kitchen in La Casa Azul

Check the museum’s website for the most up-to-date prices: www.museofridakahlo.org.mx/esp/1/el-museo/tu-visita/tarifas Be aware that the prices are listed in Mexican pesos. They also use the $ to represent their currency. The museum accepts credit and debit cards.

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The gallery at La Casa Azul

Your visit is self-guided tour and it begins with a walk through a small gallery of Frida’s work. From there, you tour the rooms of her house, including her art studio and the bedroom where the famous communist Leon Trotsky lived while in exile.

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The guest room where Leon Trotsky and his wife lived in La Casa Azul
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In the house’s large courtyard with my sister Roxana

Finally, you leave the house and enter the huge courtyard. Your visit wil take between 2 and 3 hours. A taxi from el Zócalo took us 45 minutes and cost about $25. Always make sure the taxi meter is set to $0 when you step into the taxi.

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Gran Hotel, Mexico City

Gran Hotel, Mexico City

The Gran Hotel

The beautiful Gran Hotel borders Mexico City’s Zócalo (main square). You notice how special his place as soon as you enter the hotel!

  • Built in 1899 in the Art Nouveau style architecture, you’ll notice the grand staircase and the eye-catching caged elevators. To give you a better idea, the famous iron metro entrances in Paris are examples of the Art Nouveau style.
  • The glass ceiling was designed by French artist Jacque Gruber.

Mexico (once called The New Spain) is full of beautiful architecture.

The Gran Hotel
The Gran Hotel was built in 1899 in the Art Nouveau style of architecture

We visited in July and the evenings were chilly. Dress warm.



 


The Gran Hotel’s Rooftop Restaurant

The Gran Hotel’s rooftop restaurant has a stunning aerial view of the Zocalo. The food is expensive, though, and you can find better places to eat nearby.

Rooftop dining at the Gran Hotel
The views are breathtaking from the Gran Hotel’s rooftop restaurant

The Zócalo can be noisy at times, since this town square is still very popular for concerts and protests, so ask for a room facing Avenida 16 de septiembre (named for Mexican Independence Day) and not facing the Zócalo. All of the streets around the Zócalo are named for the Mexican Revolution.

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Of course, you’re in Mexico City and you’ll want to visit La Casa Azul, the museum (and former home) of Frida Kahlo, but what connection does the Gran Hotel have to this unique, ahead of her time, artist? None… except the movie Frida, starring Salma Hayek, has a scene where Frida is in a famous cabaret in Paris. The scene was filmed right here in the Gran Hotel! We watched the movie after we returned home and were excited to see our favorite hotel featured in the movie!

Scene from Frida
Scene from the movie Frida, filmed in the Gran Hotel

Is The Gran Hotel Expensive?

The Gran Hotel is not as expensive as you might think. The newer, more luxurious hotels are located by La Reforma, another great location. But being next to El Zócalo meant we could walk to the stunning theater Bellas Artes and many great restaurants frequented by many locals.

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Working As A Coppersmith Is Hard (Even In A Free, Private Class In Michoacán, Mexico)

 

The stories of violence in the Mexican state of Michoacán overshadow its treasures.

| This is part 1 of 4 in my Michoacán, Mexico series |
The series continues every Friday

When we booked a day tour from our hotel in the town of Morelia, we were the only ones. Our guide, Antonio, brought us to his car for what turned into an extensive two-day tour of the region!


I asked Antonio if he could bring us to Santa Clara de Cobre, a small town I had learned about through Chef Oropeza’s cooking show, Haciendas de Mexico.

Antonio brought us to Casa Felicitas, a copper workshop where we given a free private class in coppersmith artistry.

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The work requires artistic talent as well as physical strength and the ability to withstand the high temperatures of the ovens.

The work requires artistic talent as well as physical strength and the ability to withstand the high temperatures of the ovens.

Casa Felicitas competes in an annual competition in Santa Clara. Of course, they have a shop where you can buy some of their beautiful, crafted pieces! I was excited to buy a copper pan for my kitchen back home. This was one of the items I was hoping to find.

Maybe you’re afraid to visit Mexico, but you shouldn’t be. Take a look at our post, Go With Your Eyes Wide Open and Your Sixth Sense Alert.

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Gran Hotel, Mexico City

Best Tours in Guadalajara: The Tequila Trail

A Visit to the Iconic Frida Kahlo’s La Casa Azul

Best Tours in Guadalajara: The Tequila Trail

 

The tourism industry has become very creative in this explosion of tourism over the past ten years. It’s hard to believe that the tourism industry recently topped $2 trillion! Our Tequila Tour in Jalisco, Mexico, is part of that explosion of creativity!

Things started off bad. We were picked up at our hotel and taken to a central location where we had to wait 45 minutes for the rest of the tourists to arrive from their hotels. We were in bad moods and even thought of leaving. We hadn’t paid yet.

The minibus ride was long and bumpy and there was some rain, threatening to ruin the tour.

The Tequila Trail takes you to three distilleries

The guide and his father, the driver, kept us laughing the whole way. They pointed to the stadium of las chivas and we all became excited to see it. Las chivas are a regional Mexican soccer team.

As we were arriving in tequila country, we started to see a patch of blue sky and some rays of sun.

Into the caverns of the distillery
Tequila distillery Las Tres Mujeres

Our first stop was Las Tres Mujeres distillery where we walked the fields of blue agave and viewed the machinery in each stage of the process. Our group was one of many and the tour guide spoke in both English and Spanish.

We were given tastings of different types of tequila throughout the tour guide explained in detail the different types of tequila.

From a walk through the blue agave fields all the way through the factory, you learn about the entire process of making tequila, and then quickly forget it all as the tastings begin! 😆😜


This is how strong the tequila is 😬
This is how strong the tequila is 😬

Las Tres Mujeres distillery was very generous with the tastings, offering us cup after cup of any of the tequilas we wanted. Once we were led into the caverns, we drank more and more free tequila and then bought bottles of their tequila, their branded clothing and souvenirs without giving much thought to the price.

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Then it was back on the bus. Our small group now loved each other.

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The next distillery was Casa Noble, partly owned by the famous musician Carlos Santana. The tour was shorter and we ended up in the gift shop and tasting Casa Noble tequila much faster. The grounds of Casa Noble were littered with mangos. Perfect, because I needed something sweet.

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We were traveling with my sister Roxana

I don’t remember how we got back to the minibus but I remember a short ride to lunch, a large, tasty and generous buffet with a stunning view of the countryside.

The drunken high was wearing off. We got back on the bus and headed for the town of Tequila, a beautiful town of small colorful buildings and elaborate murals. We were given two hours here to explore on our own. We visited the Jose Cuervo distillery and then walked around the town, talking to people in the town.

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The tour costs $110 and includes a decent lunch and a final destination of the town of Tequila, where the time is yours to do what you like.

We had time to visit the Jose Cuervo hacienda and then explore the quaint town.

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There are several tour operators offering similar tequila tours. Ours was this one: https://www.viator.com/tours/Guadalajara/Real-old-Hacienda-San-Jose-del-refugio-Experience/d5299-35707P1

👍 We are not drinkers, just on occasion, but we highly recommend this tour!

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