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A Saturday in Mexico City

A Saturday in Mexico City

Saturday, October 24, 2015
Mexico City

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

Just one day for a first-time visit to Mexico City? Are you crazy? Well here’s why: Some of you may be familiar with the term ” mileage run”. Those of us who need to maintain our status on an airline sometimes need a few thousand more miles in a calendar year to do so. So we look for a bargain fare, and if it can be turned into a little romantic getaway, why not?!
We’ve got about 36 hours in Mexico, and hit the ground running, grabbing a nearly-midnight bite to eat (and café con leche mixed at the table – how much coffee, señor?) at El Popular (open 24 hours) after checking in to the historic center Hampton Inn (never saw one like THIS before – it’s in a renovated Augustinian convent from the 1800s!). 10241505 hotelWith its beautiful tiled corridors surrounding a stained-glass roofed atrium, it’s walking distance from everything we want to see this weekend. Add the fast and free WIFI, an extensive buffet breakfast (also included) and friendly helpful staff, and it’s the perfect choice.
Just a couple of blocks walk on Saturday morning and we’re at the Zocalo,10241501 Cathedral the huge square that, since the time of the Aztecs, has been the center of government and worship. When we asked about walking around last night, the hotel staff said it was safe, and that there were policemen all around – and yes, there certainly were, on every block. Today we see that impressive police presence again – in fact so many anti-riot shielded men in front of the ceramic – adorned (each one honoring a Spanish explorer)10241501 Ceramics honoring explorers federal district buildings, along with a large paddy wagon by the square, that we ask one of them if they’re expecting trouble. No, we’re told, this is just normal security!
The side of the cathedral is as beautiful, if not more so, than the front, 10241501 on side of cathedral sculpturesand the modern sculptures (see that upside-down profile?) in front are an intriguing contrast.
Just beyond, we walk along a rainbow row of buildings10241501 colorful row to see the ruins of the Templo Mayor, the Aztec temple begun in the 1300s. If you have just one day in Mexico City, how terrific to have THIS weather!  10241501 templo mayor We want to get to the other side, where we can look down on the site from El Mayor, and as we walk down the street by the Palacio Nacional, 10241502 down side street to round ruinswe’re distracted by the gardens visible beyond, and the very short line of people awaiting entrance – let’s stop here first!
Abundant with succulents, agave, 10241502 entrance sidetracks usand bougainvillea and poinsettia TREES (not just bushes or plants in this climate!),10241502 gardens trees of poinsettias the gardens, with traces of structures from the time of Hernán Cortés (the Spanish conquistador who overthrew the Aztec empire in the early 1500s)10241502 holes ruins from cortez time lead us to the main courtyard,10241502 multi tiered courtyard and the famed Diego Rivera murals surrounding the palace stairway. From the Aztec beginnings on the right10241502 Rivera history begins on right with Aztecs to pre-World-War II (a pensive Frida Kahlo watching the action),10241502 Rivera history ends on left at WW II pensive Kahlo on the bottomthe History of Mexico is portrayed in brilliant color.
Thoughtful, we continue around the remains of Aztec rule to the rooftop perch of El Mayor, where we pause for coffee-with-a-view10241502 then round the ruins to El Mayor for coffee with a view of the pyramids below. 10241502 traces of abundant pyramids in other places under plexiglass as wellPassing one street vendor after another, 10241503 enticing street food on sidewalks and in tiny holes in wallwe resist temptation as we fit in a bit more sightseeing before lunch.
Casa de Azulejos (House of Tiles), an 18th century palace covered in the blue and white  tiles of Puebla, 10241503 facade of tiles sanbornshouses one of the first Sanborns (a department store-restaurant chain) in the country. The beautiful tilework continues inside,10241503 more beautiful tilework and carvings where a gracious courtyard bustles with the Saturday lunch crowd. 10241503 interior courtyard bustling with dinersWe’re just looking, gracias. Our lunch destination is Los Girasoles (the sunflowers), 10241503 our choice girasolewhere we’re seated by an upstairs window,10241503 seated by upstairs window music with several friendly and knowledgeable waiters ready to bring us everything we could want. Kirk bravely tried the house tequila combo, 10241504 a tequilaand as he shakes his head in shock after each pepper-topped sip, I abstain from even a tongue-touch of the fiery stuff. We skip the pre-Hispanic delicacies of escamoles (ant eggs) and gusanos de Maguey (chilied worms) and order an array of small plates from around Mexico – shrimp tacos from Veracruz,10241504 culinary taste tour shrimp tacos veracruz Blue Quesadillas stuffed with squash flowers  – Oaxaca, 10241504 delish blue corn quesadilla with squash blossombanana and pork filled tortillas,10241504 flautas of pork and these banana things see menu and Yucatan suckling-pig flautas – served with – you won’t believe this – dog’s nose relish (which was actually delicious)! As we savor each marvelous bite a breeze flutters the tablecloth, and strains of an impressive street band (the vocalist sounds like Joe Bonamassa!) entertain us.
Walking towards the Alameda, a huge park that’s been an important center of town since Aztec times, we pass traditional dancers – the jingles on the guy’s leg (not very visible, sorry) remind us of the Morris Dancers we heard in Bath last month,10241504 mexican morris dancers jingles on legs like those we saw in bath link and the post office. No big deal, right? Well, it’s not just any old post office, but the Palacio Postal, a delectable example of Renaissance Revival design – 10241504 palacio postalone of the grand imitations of European architecture  from the time of Porfiorio Diaz’ long dictatorship (1876-1911). Wow – what a place to mail a letter!
Back to the Zocalo, we walk through the cathedral with its massive gold altars, 10241504 wedding goers fancy dresscrowds of wedding guests in evening dress waiting outside the doors,
then stroll through neighborhoods, some filled with outdoor markets, the vendors hawking their wares, some quiet, with tree-lined lanes and tilting belltowers – from the ’85 earthquake?10241505 tilt from earthquake or swampy land and are drawn in by the scent of baking to the busiest bakery we’ve ever seen – Pastelería Madrid. Candied sweet potatoes and chunks of pumpkin, anyone?10241505 pastry shop candied sweets and squash A busy tostada stand by the entry is ready to fortify customers for the job ahead, as the shelf-lined walls go on and on, from one room to another, and patrons carrying trays carefully choose their pastries,10241505 pastry shop choose racks go on for milesthen bring them to a counter where efficient uniformed staff wrap them up 10241505 pastry wrapped– I can imagine them on the Sunday breakfast tables tomorrow, a little Day of the Dead goodie alongside. 10241505 pastries day of the deadIt’s been a tasting tour of Mexico City – for the eyes as well as the mouth – and we finish off with a courtyard dinner at Puntarena Centro,10241506 dinner wall courtyard seated by a vertical wall of greenery. 10241506 dinner wallOne of the most delicious tostadas I’ve ever tasted, laden with sashimi tuna and fried leeks,10241505 dab of spicy mole tuna and leeks wisp top of volcano in am along with fabulous shrimp and avocado tacos,10241505 courtyard dinner makes me eager to return for more Mexican delights – 36 hours is just enough to tempt us to come back!

Back in Time in the English Countryside

Back in Time in the English Countryside

Sunday, September 27, 2015
Lacock & Avebury, England

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

On the way to Heathrow this afternoon, but before we fly across the Atlantic we’ll step back a century or two in the delightful villages of Lacock and Avebury. But first, I neglected to mention that we fit in yet ANOTHER cream tea yesterday, while in Bath …. 09261503-teatime-again1and my mouth waters just to look at this again!
One of our day trips on the November tour will be to these evocative hamlets, both of which have been used as backdrops for several  BBC period pieces and even Harry Potter movies.09271501-homes-and-inns Strolling through the quiet Sunday morning lanes, we admire solid stone homes,09271501-lacock built to last, an inviting bakery,09271501-bakery and check out this roof beam – almost to the ground!09271501-quite-a-roof-beam  As we approach the creeper-draped church we hear an organist practicing inside, 09271501-lambs-making-racket-beyond-churchaccompanied by bleating sheep in the field beyond. The ruddy Virginia Creeper seems to be taking over, 09271501-va-creeper-spreading-like-kudzulike kudzu on a Georgia roadside! Not so in this elegant garden, with topiaries of a woman and a whale.09271502-elegant-garden-topiaryNear the George Inn (established in the 1300s!),09271502-george-inn-the-place-inside-in-nov where we’ll have lunch during our tour  is another autumn adorned beauty, 09271502-lacockand down the street a horse looks ready to make a phone call.09271502-horseOn our way to Avebury we pass through neighborhoods of thatched beauties,09271502-thatched-beauties-find-cost-and-time each one unique.09271502-thatched-beauties These homeowners pay a hefty price to carry on this ancient craft…the average cost of rethatching a four bedroom cottage is around 20,000 pounds, but a good thatch should last 20 years. Aren’t you glad they contribute to the beauty of England this way?
“The only pub in the world inside a stone circle”  in Avebury is in the process of rethatching 09271502-thatched-in-process-avebury–it’ll be done when we return for a pint in November. Prehistoric artisans built a huge stone circle, so large that you could only tell it was a circle from the air, with two smaller circles inside.09271503-prehistoric-stone-circles The smaller circles are still visible,09271503-walked-damp-1024x768 but many of the stones of the massive circle have been removed through the centuries. Are you getting tired of thatched cottages yet? I’m not! Here’s one with a little fringe on the edges,09271504-a-bit-of-a-fringe and another with windows peeking out…09271504-lodge-one-dayoh I want to stay in one someday!
But now it’s time to fly home….so glad we’ll be back soon!

Bath is Bustling!

Bath is Bustling!

Saturday, September 26, 2015
Bath, England

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy

Yes indeed, Bath is bustling – it’s always a challenge to drive in and out of this popular town (we’re staying about an hour north, in Cirencester), and today, Saturday, it’s bursting with entertaining Morris Dancers everywhere we go!09261501-Bath-dancers-video-tooIt’s an annual competition, and from one plaza or sidewalk to another, colorful, smiling, brightly costumed dancers09261501-Bath-Morris hop and twirl to the rhythm of sticks or cheery accordion.
I’d love to keep watching – but we’re meeting a Mayor’s Guide in front of the Abbey for a tour of the town.09261501-Bath-Tour Although we’ve toured Bath before, it’s been a while, and we thoroughly enjoy our guide, David, and his tales entwined with the fascinating history of Bath, so lovely with lush flowers at this time of year. 09261501-Hanging-basketsFrom the Roman Baths09261502-rider to the golden stone architectural beauty of the Circus, 09261502-circuswe take it all in – and appreciate the gorgeous sunny day too! 09261502-circus-carriage And we like our guide so much that we invite him to lunch, along with his wife! After a quick peek at the Pump Room, 09261502-room-pumpwe meet Brenda outside, walk to nearby Bistro Barrique, and since the weather continues warm and beautiful, sit in the courtyard. 09261502-took-charming-guide-to-lunch A lunch special of 3 tapas and a glass of wine sounds so good that we ask the chef to choose his best for the four of us, and the table fills with delicious bites. 09261502-uber-tapasThis wonderful couple have an in-depth knowledge of the city, and have lots of good ideas for our upcoming Bath Mozartfest tour in November. We give them a ride home to their lovely townhouse, admire their sleek greyhound 09261503-beetons-at-homeand marvelous garden, 09261503-gardenand leave with an invitation for us and our Music and Markets guests for dinner when we return – oh what a special evening that will be!

From North to South in the Cotswolds

From North to South in the Cotswolds

Friday, September 25, 2015
The Southern Cotswolds, England

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you! How about an unforgettable holiday with us at New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

Surprise! Someone’s decorated the Market Hall with colorful streamers during the night! We didn’t hear a thing…stealth streamers!09251501-colorful-streamers
After a hearty breakfast in the Tea Room downstairs, we’re on our way, making sure to take the road east of town where we’ve read that there are a bevy of thatched roof beauties. And they don’t disappoint!09251501-cottages-thatched I’m fascinated by the precise trim,09251501-fascinated-by-precise-trim the designs on the roofpeak, each distinctive,09251501-peaks-distinctivethe gentle curves, which look as if they’ve been smoothed and shaped by a giant hand.09251502-curves-gently-smoothedFall is much further along here than at home in Virginia, topping the fences with brilliant berries,09251501-fence-topped draping the homes with crimson.09251501-fall-much-further-along-hereAn undulating hedge fronting another thatched home looks like a giant about to awaken –09251501-more-like-a-sleeping-giant-ready-to-wake-up-than-a-hedge I can imagine a green monster rising up with a stretch!
Bibury, nearly an hour south of Chipping Campden, is another popular Cotswold village, and one that we’re including on our Bath Mozartfest Tour itinerary. With its rows of weavers cottages built in 1380, known as Arlington Row,09251502-south-to-biburystill lived in today, a graceful church (garlanded with roses from a recent wedding),09251502-st-marys-garlanded-from-wedding an inviting inn09251502-trout-farm-too with beautiful gardens09251502-swan-inn-gardens and a stream burbling through it all,09251502-wm-morris-prettiest it’s no wonder that William Morris dubbed it the prettiest village in England.
The old inn in which we used to enjoy afternoon tea is no longer open, and a charming lady who’s decorating a window in the church09251502-st-marys-harvest-festival for the upcoming harvest festival recommends a place down the road.
Oh yes – Barnsley House will be perfect for our tour guests!09251503-barnsley-house We’re delighted with the cozy interior – we’ll reserve the corner by the fireplace for our group!09251503-perfect-spot-for-tea-on-tourAnd the gardens are an absolute wonder – 09251503-Fabulous-gardenswith inviting nooks09251503-inviting-nooks and luscious long views – 09251503-long-viewsbreathtaking!
It’s been a few years since we’ve been in Bath, so we’re re-acquainting our selves with this gracious city. Our first concert for the Mozartfest in November will be in the majestic Abbey.09251503-reacquainting-with-bath And of course we’ve got to make sure that the restaurants we’d previously chosen for the tour are still good! So after a delicious dinner not far from the abbey we say goodnight to Bath09251503-where-Austens-heroines-walked1 – we’ll be back tomorrow!

Cruising the Cotswolds

Cruising the Cotswolds

Thursday, September 24, 2015
The Cotswolds, England

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy

It’s another glorious day in the English countryside…sun filters into the sitting room,09241501 am filtering sun beckoning us to the gardens beyond…and just in case, a plethora of wellies right by the front door can keep our feet dry in the dewy grass.09241501 am prepared boots by doorThrough a stone arch, the path winds down beside the manicured lawns to a lake, but we’re headed first out the back door to explore Upper Slaughter..09241501 am walkSt. Peter’s church tops the town, with a unique mix of architectural styles – it’s obviously been modified through the centuries.09241501 church of st peterInside it’s simple and peaceful, with an impressive beamed and vaulted ceiling.09241501 church simple beautyI’d love to watch a crew of ringers peal the bells above! How many people does it take, I wonder…does each rope have a ringer, or is it a one-person job?09241501 church web of bell pullsDown the hill we walk, passing a pretty front yard09241503 mailbox pack up to stowe, and a  re-purposed red phone booth still jaunty beside a stone cottage. It now houses a defibrillator!09241501 phonebox now defibrillatorA sign by the road warns “unsuitable for vehicles”  – but this ford looks pretty harmless to us. We cross the narrow walking bridge beside it.09241501 sign not suitable for vehicles the fordA public walkway meanders between Upper and Lower Slaughter, taking us through a field with a good view back towards Lords of the Manor.09241501 to lower slaughter by lordsThrough woods, grassy meadows and quirky gates we go, 09241501 woods and fields and gatesand arrive at Lower Slaughter in about 15 minutes.09241502 down to the millThe old mill is the village’s claim to fame,and now houses a couple of crafty shops, 09241502 etsy items in the crafty shopsand a courtyard of golden stone garden objects.09241502 golden stone for the gardenA bit bigger than Upper Slaughter, the village is filled with pretty homes and gardens,09241502 nice gardens this one with reds of every shade, 09241502 reds of every shadegently arched bridges,09241503 bridgesand tall-steepled St. Mary’s.09241502 pretty church in a bit bigger townWe’re heading further north today, through rolling fields crisscrossed with drystone walls,09241503 undulating fields to the bustling village of Chipping Campden,09241504 chipping campden where we’re spending the night in a cute B & B over a tearoom overlooking the beautiful market hall. 09241504 market hallBuilt in the early 1600s, the market’s floor sure shows its age!09241504 old floor 1627Pauline, the founder of Slow Europe, who now lives in the Cotswolds, recommends the Badger Tea Rooms for their scones baked in an Aga 09241504 from the aga– I love their crisp outside and tender inside, and the cream, of course, is delectable! 09241504 chipping campden sconesTwo days, two cream teas…not my usual diet, that’s for sure!
The over one hundred mile Cotswold Way, a walking path, begins here and goes all the way to Bath.09241504 way starts here goes southMuch larger than the hamlets we’ve been in earlier today, Chipping Campden boasts several good tea rooms and pubs, charming thatched cottages,09241505-pass-cottage-on-way-to-church many beautiful homes,09241505 elegant townhomes not a village and a majestic “Wool Church” 09241505-q-churchso called since it was reconstructed in grand style by the wealthy wool merchants of medieval times. We still see lots of sheep on the hillsides, but I don’t think they make their masters so much money as they did way back then! The graveyard beside the church slopes down to a ruined manor, all that’s left is a many-towered entry.09241505 q graveyardWe stop by the Lygon Arms to make dinner reservations,returning later for a hearty meal and even heartier conversations by the locals.09241506 delicious dinner and fun conversation eavesdropping Last night, too, we enjoyed eavesdropping on the teasing banter by the bar – it’s obvious that these pubs are a nightly stop for many.
The town seems to glow as we walk back to our room…09241507 goodnightgood night, Chipping Campden!