Sep 182018
 


As I mentioned in a few previous posts I always felt a little guilty when I finished every country that my experiences in Mexico City had been pretty much limited to border regions.

Then, this spring came my first trip to Mexico City for work. Then another trip to Mexico City for work. Then an overnight on an Aeromexico ticket on the way to Chile. Now, it was just August and it was time for my fourth trip this year to Mexico City! I had a couple of very packed days of meetings with clients, but opted to spend the weekend as well so I could dig a little bit deeper. A couple fun shots from the “business portion” of the trip though.

Firstly, the view from my client’s offices of Santa Fe – hard to believe this business/industrial district is almost brand spanking new:

Apparently, it was the season for Chiles en Nogada, or chilis with nuts. A rather different dish served COLD of a chili served stuffed with ground meat and then covered in a nut sauce and pomegranate made to look like the mexican flag. Wasn’t exactly my cup on tea, and unfortunately despite drinking some mezcal to kill any bugs I think this is what did the slow number on my stomach:

A rather unusual sculpture/statue outside the restaurant. Weird, but I have to say I liked it:

After meetings out in Santa Fe, I took a taxi late Friday night into the city so I could spend the whole day Saturday walking around and exploring. Firstly, the weather was gorgeous. Mid 70s, no humidity, and sunny skies. Unfortunately, I got a bit of a food-borne bug, so was feeling pretty sketchy the whole day. Fortunately, I felt just well enough to walk around, and walk I did. Nearly 15 miles during the duration of the day, and I ended up seeing a lot of great sights thanks to some recommendations for friends. I’ll let the photos tell the story.

The Torre Reforma, an office building. I love the unusual architecture:

The other side of the Torre Reforma, taken later in the day. I just find the building really cool:

Continuing my walk from my hotel, and praying that my innards would hold up at least for the stops between venues/sights with baños, I encountered something I definitely didn’t expect to find. The Mexico-Azerbaijan Friendship Park…complete with a large statue of Azerbaijan:

Back side of the monument….

Finally, after a bit over a mile of walking, I made it to the National Museum of Anthropology. Thankful to have not had any…”incidents” along the way, I was greeted out front by a fun group of dancers:

Let me get my one critique of the museum out of the way first. The place is huge. Super huge. No way you can see it all in one day huge. It’s divided into different “halls” around a courtyard by time period and civilization, but beyond telling you what is where, you really have no idea where to start looking for the featured pieces if you’re limited on time. Having a bit of a short attention span for museums, and wanting to see as much of the city as possible, I really wanted to hit the highlights. Thanks to around 30 minutes on google, I managed to find them.

Oh, and since I highlighted my one critique, I should also highlight the biggest unexpected positive: the museum was free today as a “gift” from the new government to the people of Mexico. No, it’s not really that expensive anyways, but it was a nice unexpected bonus, and the place was super crowded.

A Mexica (otherwise known as the Aztecs) death complex sculpture. Something about this one I really enjoyed:

Another Aztec carvin:

The giant Aztec “calendar stone” – I had to wait nearly 15 minutes for a group of people to all take their turn taking their selfie in front of it…so of course I couldn’t resist doing the same. The picture doesn’t show the sheer magnitude of the thing, which was 3.5 meters in diameter!

Statue of Xotchipilli, Aztec God of Art and Games…who by the look on his face enjoyed playing games while totally stoned out of his mind:

Montezuma’s headdress, made of quetzal feathers…although there is significant doubt that it’s the “real deal:”

Jade necklace and mask of Pakal the First, a Mayan ruler…that doesn’t exactly look terribly comfortable.

Overall, I super enjoyed this museum, and spent nearly three hours exploring it, which is probably a record for me in a museum. Normally my attention span is gone well before that time, so combine that with being ill this museum is a definite must-see when you’re in Mexico City.

After re-fuelling with caffeine and carrot cake at Starbucks outside the museum (don’t judge….anyone who’s had stomach issues knows that if you find something that sounds good, eat it!) I continued my walk into the park Bosque de Chapultepec which was right across the road. I always find local birds really interesting:

It was beautiful weather, and lots of folks were out on the lake in paddleboats:

After that I walked up, and up, and up, and up, and considered bailing since I wasn’t feeling great, but at the top finally made it to Chapultepec Castle and the National Museum fo History. I was museum-ed out for the day so just wandered the grounds for a bit and took in the sights. I’ll definitely come back to check it out in-depth another time though.

Great views of the city, however, from the castle grounds up on a high hill:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. See, believe me, lots of problems:

The Altar de la Patria in Chapultepec Park:

I was running a bit shorter on time than I realized, and it was already around 3pm at this time, and I still had one more sight I really wanted to try and squeeze in. I had hoped to take the metro down to the Trotsky Museum, but since I was short on time I took an Uber since it was only like $6. Unfortunately, due to traffic, it still took like 45 minutes to get there (Mexico City can have absolutely terrible traffico) but I still made it with an hour to spare. I loved the entrance of the museum:

Trotsky’s grave:

The Casa de Trotsky – his house – where he lived in exile after being expelled from the Soviet Union. As a student of Soviet history, I found this museum super interesting:

Trotsky’s office, where he worked while in exile, until dying by a pick-axe to the head:

Gotta have a selfie with Trotsky’s grave!

After the museum, I took the nice mile or so stroll to the metro, where I stopped in a mall next to the metro stop for a small snack before boarding the train back towards my hotel. One thing I found really interesting – and somewhat depressing – is that part of the platform in the Mexico City subway is blocked off for women and children only. Interesting, because I applaud them for taking this step to protect people, depressing because it indicates that men are poorly enough behaved that women need to be protected.

Another shot of barriers in another station, along with what the trains look like:

I had to giggle, because it turned out my hotel was apparently right across the street from a string of gay bars, and being Saturday night they were absolutely swarming with 20-somethings. I felt old. But you have to love a place named “The Gayta Pussy Bar” Hah!

After a bit of exploring, I decided to hop back on the metro and check out a bar called The Beer Company. It was about 30 minutes and a short walk away by metro, and being a gorgeous evening I enjoyed a few beers on the patio. The place wasn’t at all crowded, but had that nice neighbourhood bar feel…and the complete lack of English spoken only made it feel more fun.

While “checking in” the new beers in the Untappd App I saw that there was apparently a tap takeover going on at another bar in the city, and despite being tired and worn out I had to check it out. I headed over to Tasting Room which had not only some incredibly funky alien decor (I finally figured out the mysteries of Easter Island):

…but also had an amazing draft list. This place was a gem in Mexico City, and I’ll definitely be back here for drinks the next time I’m in Mexico City.

By this point, I was absolutely exhausted, and really impressed just how much I managed to see for a day when I was seriously not feeling well.

With that, it was time to fly off the next morning for a few days in Minnesota with family for my birthday on the way back to DC…and to get a bit of rest before beginning an incredibly busy travel period – even by my standards!  Post to come on that in the coming days before I head off on probably my craziest two months of travel ever!

May 272018
 


As a fair warning, this post is going to be a bit long and rambling. After my plans to visit Zimbabwe for two nights then Botswana for two nights fell through, I was completely up in the air. The first of four nights was going to get eaten up staying in Johannesburg, since it was nearly 6pm when I landed from Namibia.

Nice night of rest, and woke up, and tried to figure out how to sort out my life. Air Zimbabwe was flying in the late afternoon from Johannesburg to Bulawayo, so I could just as easily pick up my trip! Of course, you can’t buy Air Zimbabwe tickets online, so off to OR Tambo I go with my baggage. The very helpful agent “wasn’t sure if it will go today, or if so when – it gets canceled a lot. Maybe by 11pm.” Uhhh, yeah, that’s not a chance I want to take.

Bit more research, I could pick up Air Botswana directly to Francistown and then drive to Gaborone, but it was going to be more than $800 between change fees for my return ticket and the car, so that just wasn’t happening. Rather than waste anymore time, I decided to chalk it up to “this time, the travel gods were not with me” and head back to my hotel.

Fortunately, I was able to book another night on cash+points, so spent the evening relaxing, scheming, and decided that I was going to make the most of it. Despite dozens of trips to Joburg, I decided I was going to try and dig a little bit deeper. My trip out to Maboneng had been super cool a week back, so I’d use the next two full days to explore until I had to get back to work.

Walking to Starbucks the next morning, fate intervened and I saw the sales centre for the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus. Quick look confirmed it stopped at a lot of places I hadn’t been, so I bought the two day pass. Why not…I think I’ve only done one of these touristy busses once, and they really can be a good way to see a city in a short time. Plus, it was an absolutely gorgeous 22 degree day, and the next day was forecast to be more of the same.

Pickup/start point was right by my hotel, and off we go. I even got a seat on the upper deck…kinda like a 747…same same but different…

I decided to get off first at Constitution Hill and see the Number Four prison and constitutional court. Unfortunately, lots of the site was closed today due to private group tours, but you could still do a self-guided tour of the Number Four Prison. Entrance had one of my favourite Mandela quotes:

Number Four was built in the 1890s under Paul Kruger and Ghandi spent time in Number Four in 1906.

Shot of the prison yard as it stands today. For some reason, the Orange is the New Black theme started going in my head, and I caught myself humming it. Probably not terribly appropriate…

Pictures of Ghandi and Mandela at various points in their lives…

Solitary confinement cells. Stepping inside and to the back of one sent shivers down my spine.

Hillbrow Tower as seen from Constitution Hill. On my first trip to South Africa in 1997, Hillbrow was always regaled to us as that super terrifying lawless place that you didn’t dare set foot anywhere near.

Waiting for our bus to leave Constitution Hill for the next stop.

Since I’d gotten a late start, I figured I’d ride past all the next stops and stop at the SAB World of Beer which was the last stop. That would allow me to see which of the stops looked interesting for the next day, and would conveniently put me at World of Beer at roughly happy hour time.

The tour was over an hour long, and absolutely…terrible. I’ve been on a few brewery tours , and this was probably one of the worst. It was basically a “history of beer” and honestly….was just bad. Our guide was fantastic, but it was basically 90 minutes of prelude before they let you do the good stuff: the beer tasting.

The tasting was kinda fun, five or six (I forget now) different beers from the SAB lineup, poured one at a time from bottles for the whole group. Apparently if the colour/taste of the beer is just ordinary, the tasting term for that is “unremarkable.” Unremarkable was what I’d call this whole experience, but the tour ended on the rooftop beergarden with two tickets and the VIEW was remarkable!

Next day, I got a slightly earlier start. Back onto the bus, and noted this very hoity-toity private school we drove past:

Then the bus would right through downtown Johannesburg. While undergoing some gentrification and revitalization, there are still plenty of signs that the area has a very, very long way to go. For example, this highrise with a history of fires and busted out windows just sitting empty…though likely home to squatters.

Another building which has clearly seen better days, but has apparently found a buyer:

Springbox jumping over a fountain in front of a casino at one of the stops. This seemed to be the most popular of all stops, and I was tempted to get out for an hour, but how exciting can a casino be?

Winding over a bridge into the central business district, an ad for Amarula – made from Africa!

I got off at the stop for Braamfontein, which along with Maboneng is known to be a “hip, young, and edgy” area of the downtown. Madiba on the side of a building:

Turn of the century building, now a bar:

Found some seats at the patio bar across the street, and ordered a cider while I people watched.

Shortly after ordering a second cider, a 6’5+ drag queen came over and sat next to me…and ordered a cheeseburger. Apparently, her name was Miss Winnie Gets-In-Your-Pants (a nod to Winnie Mandela I assume?) and she’d come from the bar/club across the street. Like was common in the US in the 80s/90s, gay bars were found in the edgy parts of town and this area was very popular with alternative crowds – gays, goths, and just general people who lived outside the “mainstream.” Great lively street scene, and fantastic people watching. I think I spent almost two hours just sitting there and watching the city go by.

Back to the hotel, caught an Uber out to Randburg to check out Craft Beer Library which I’d been told has the best beer list in Johannesburg. The setting was cozy, but lots of fun, complete with shoeless hipster singing…

Definitely a cozy little place, but great beer list and super friendly staff. Definitely on my list of places to return to in JoBurg…maybe as soon as a few days from now 😉

…and with that teaser, couple of days of work stood ahead before the trek home and final part of this trip report.

Nov 042014
 

Hotel van dropped me at the airport where there was a very short line for check-in. The Port Moresby airport felt a bit like a tin shed, with nothing in the way of amenities, but it was purely functional. Nothing in the way of air conditioning, but fortunately it was still rather early in the morning so it didn’t yet have that tin can sweatbox feeling to it…yet.

Completed check-in less than 90 minutes before flight time, but…customs still wasn’t open. So it was time to sweat it out. It was rather warm, but not completely intolerable…and at exactly 60 minutes before the flight one immigration officer showed up to let us out of the country. Not a single question why I’d only been there 24 hours, and stamp stamp, I was out of Papua New Guinea.

The terminal was under a bit of construction, and apparently here’s where the door is going to be:

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One common area for all international departures, which was rather empty this morning:

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Boarded 15 minutes before flight time, and we were quickly packed away and ready to go. Rather empty flight this morning, so I was lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me again.

 Qantas flight 192 operated by QantasLink
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (POM) to Cairns, Australia (CNS)
Depart 8:45, Arrive 10:35, Flight Time 1:50
DeHavilland Dash-8 Q400, Registration VH-LQK, Manufactured 2012, Seat 18D

Take off over Port Moresby:

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Feb 022014
 

As I mentioned before, after a short taxi ride we arrived at our hotel, the Miramar by Pestana.  I hadn’t paid a lot of attention, and didn’t realize there were two Pestana properties on the island, only about a 10 minute walk apart.  I’d booked a junior suite since it was only 15 euros more than a standard room.  We checked in, went to our individual rooms, and then drama started.

My room didn’t have wifi.  The hall did, but it didn’t reach my room.  Down to the front desk “oh so sorry, that is the only junior suite we have.  Would you like a standard room for the reduced price?”  Sure.  So, off the standard room I go…but…the air conditioning was broken.  Thankfully, this time I hadn’t unpacked my bag.  Off to try a third room….nope, internet doesn’t reach this one either.

The front desk guy was extremely patient and helpful, and after trying five rooms, we determined there were no rooms available with internet AND air conditioning.  Seems Jordan had gotten lucky with his, the first or second room in the hall.  I retired to the empty hotel bar to have a beer to ponder my options.

They called the manager (since there wasn’t one on site) who agreed I could move to the other Miramar property, the Pestana Sao Tome if I wanted….but would have to pay the extra 15 euros over the price.  Sigh, fine.

They had a rattly old hotel van, which would drive me there.  Got there, and asked before I committed to anything to see both a junior suite and a regular room.  The regular room was more than fine, except…the air conditioning didn’t work.  LOL.  Second regular room was just fine, and after almost two hours of hotel hopping I finally had a room.  Whew.

Finally in a room, I headed down to the poolside bar/restaurant to get something to eat before bed.  The drink of the month was the caipirinha, so I couldn’t pass it up.  Along with some peanuts and a decent sandwich, I was happy and finally off to bed!

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Woke up the next morning, and checked out the breakfast.  Quite a good spread with made-to-order eggs, waffles, etc, tons of fruits and pastries, and really tasty local coffee.  Overall, the breakfast was pretty good, and given what I’d expected in Sao Tome I thought it was excellent.  The view from my room wasn’t bad either.  Right onto the pool and the Atlantic, looking due west:

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Dec 292013
 

After arriving and checking into my hotel, I headed out to dinner.  The choice was Lorenzo and Kakalamba, which got great reviews on TripAdvisor and sounded fun on top of it.

I’ll admit, when I walked in and saw this in the entryway I was a little scared:

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…and when I sat down and got the menu, I was even MORE scared:

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Jun 122013
 

I had one final day to explore the city before getting back to work, so decided to use it to see Tashkent. I’d read that there wasn’t a whole lot to see, but I picked some of the higher rated attractions on TripAdvisor, made a loose plan, and set out on foot to explore. I decided to use the Metro to get around, since my hotel seemed to be halfway between two stations, approximately a 10 minute walk from each.

First, the view of the telecom tower outside my hotel window. This was actually highly rated as something to see, but I ran out of time.

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Walking to the metro, I passed a bit of Gagnam…I mean Optical Style.  Even in Uzbekistan…

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First stop was Amir Timur square.  Remember him from yesterday?  I saw his mausoleum in Samarkand.  He’s kinda a big deal in Uzbekistan.  On the square sits the fabulously Soviet Hotel Uzbekistan, a monument to “bigger and plainer is better.”

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Right next door was the Congress:

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Continuing around the square, the next two sites were the old clock tower and the new clock tower.  Very similar, I honestly don’t remember which one this is.  I remember one had really poor lighting and I couldn’t get a good pic.  Not that this one was a whole lot better, but…

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Jan 192013
 

Woke up the next morning, feeling like I’d been hit by a small truck. Full-on nasty cold…great…just what I need in the middle of a round the world trip. Guide insisted I needed to be at the airport three hours before my flight, but finally agreed with me that two hours would be sufficient but “I’m taking a risk.” The hotel was once again super helpful – when I told them I needed to get going early, they had the whole breakfast buffet out at 630am for me. Fantastic!

Guide showed up to say goodbye, and sent me on my way to the airport with the driver. Supposedly the driver was supposed to get me checked in for the flight because it’s “very complicated” but there was nowhere to park so I was on my own…and it was a total nonevent. Took all of two minutes to check-in, but boarding passes were handwritten and changing seats? Forget it. “No, that’s your seat!” Uhhhh, ok then!

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Through security which was a bit on the confusing side, through immigration where I got no questions at all, and into the common waiting hall.  There was a lounge, but apparently it was the wrong lounge for TunisAir.  For that, I had to take the lift up to the next floor – ok, that works.  The lounge was pretty big, and had maybe a dozen people total in it and a decent selection of food and drink…nonalcoholic of course.  A few diet cokes helped with the cold, and the WiFi was pretty fast so overall a decent place to wait and there was a really good view of the planes coming and going.

Each gate had its own holding area, and I got down maybe 10 minutes before boarding…just enough time to hang around.  The most interesting first observation was the number of women wearing headcoverings of various sorts on the flight.  I saw hardly any women covered in Libya, but it appeared that in Tunisia that was more or less the norm.

TunisAir Flight 512
Tripoli, Libya (TIP) to Tunis, Tunisia (TUN)
Depart 10:15, Arrive 11:30, Flight Time 1:15
Airbus A320, Registration TS-IME, Manufactured 1990, Seat 5A

Seat 2D, which I’d been informed was where I was sitting was an aisle, but 2F was occupied (the plane was in the european config where business was the same as economy, with the middle seats blocked) and rows 5 and 6 were completely empty so after asking the flight attendant if I could move I went back to 5A to get a window and a whole row.  The crew was a bit odd, in that when addressed in French (not just by me, but others as well) they responded in English.  Arabic, no problem, they spoke Arabic back…but they seemed to not want to speak French.  However, after continuing in French long enough they’d eventually switch.  It was strange.  Took me about 3-4 interactions before they’d speak French…odd.

Anyways, shortly after takeoff, the crew came around with table coverings…high class for those of us used to flying in the US.  They were paper, but still…it was Espace Privlège!

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…but PLIEZ, fold the airsickness bag when you’re done, LOL!

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Apr 282012
 

So, here’s where I admit I lied a bit.  What to do on a rainy Sunday in DC?  Honestly….we didn’t do a great job of this!  Once we saw it was raining, getting out of bed before we had to was difficult, and we just barely made it into DC in time for the planned 11:30 brunch with a friend.  Did I mention it was pouring?  The oddest part of the whole thing, was the encounter with a local DC crazy that went like this:

Crazy:  “Hello, you speak Russian?  I Russian?”

Me:  “Yes, actually I do”

Crazy:  (switching to Russian)  “Good!  I have DVDs to sell!  Pretty naked ladies!  Copies but very good.  You want to buy?”

Me:  “Um, no, thanks”  (walks away, leaves metro station)

Crazy:  (follows us to bus stop)  “You no like hot naked ladies?  I need to buy train ticket to Baltimore.  Sell DVDs.  No want to buy?”

Now, at this point we probably should have just kissed and convinced him that no, we really weren’t looking for hot naked ladies, but the amusement was just too much!  Got on the bus, made it to brunch…which was awesome.  Commissary is one of my favourite brunch places in DC.  The huevos rancheros are awesome, and don’t get me started on the blueberry pancakes.  The only downside is that from around 11:00 to 1:30 on weekends the wait is usually 30 minutes minimum, often longer.  It’s definitely worth it though.

After a very very long lunch, we headed back to the Library of Congress in an attempt to visit the reading room and check out a book and see the mural on the rotunda.  No luck – closed Sundays!  Wet and frustrated, we got back on the metro, and headed to the Smithsonian to check out the American History Museum.  It was pretty fun – although quite a disorganized mess.  We did see all the First Ladies’ dresses – including Michelle’s, along with some other interesting exhibits about the Civil War, Thomas Jefferson’s slave baby mamas, etc.  It was a good way to spend a few rainy hours while trying to stay a bit dry.  Below from an exhibit on US money, which will only be funny to Canadians:

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Apr 272012
 

We tried to get an earlier start to the second day of touring the city, but it just didn’t happen.  Met some friends for coffee and a light brunch at Northside Social in Arlington.  This place is pretty well known now by those in the Ballston to Clarendon corridor, but it’s a great local coffeeshop and place for light meals.  Plus, in the evening, it’s a fun wine bar with great outside seating during the summer.  I was worried when it opened it would be a bit too hipster, but it strikes a great balance, and is really lots of fun:  great food and drinks, fun atmosphere, and great location.

After that, it was off to DC for our first pre-booked tour.  We were off to the Library of Congress for their tour.  Offered every hour on the half hour, I didn’t expect this to be nearly as cool as it was.  However, I think it was one of our highlights of the entire weekend.  Our guide (Clark) was excellent, the building is probably the coolest sight I’ve ever seen in DC, and it was an overall fantastic experience.  We took the 11:30 tour on a Saturday, and showed up at 11:28 with no problems at all.  No booking in advance, and it was a great tour.  I’ll post a few pics here:

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