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!

Oct 072017
 



Another great night of sleep, and despite being go go go on this vacation, one thing I was managing to do pretty well was catch up on sleep. Now, that might be due to the tremendous amount of walking I was doing in general, but either way, it was actually feeling like a vacation!

My rate at the W included breakfast, so made a point to partake in that before heading out. I would rate it pretty middle of the road as far as hotel breakfast go, but there were plenty of choices including eggs and porridge cooked to order, so it was more than enough to get a start on the day.

After fueling up, it was time for a walk! I had highlighted some of the sights I wanted to try and see, so the plan was to head out and see how much I could do before I got absolutely exhausted from walking. First stop near the hotel was the Fountain of the Admiralty:

Plan was to head over to Nevsky Prospekt and head east-southeast before heading back north and eventually crossing the Neva River. First major site was the Stroganov Palace, and yes, that’s the family that beef stroganoff was named for. Since I only had one full day I opted to walk around and see as many sites as I could from the outside, without spending the time in line for tickets and exploring the inside. Stroganov Palace:

a little further down Nevsky Prospekt was the Kazan Cathedral:

Statue of Field Marshall Prince Kutuzov of Smolensk:

At this point, the grey weather and walking was catching up with me, so I stopped at Starbucks for a large iced coffee and a sandwich. After resting up a bit, I continued the walk. Crossed Nevsky Prospekt, and passed the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood:

Very impressive up close, and swarming with tourists:

Best part about tourists? All sorts of souvenir stands. I was pretty disappointed they only had this shirt left in a small size, because I totally wanted to buy it:

I did, however, managed to find a whole bunch of awesome magnets:

From this point, back to Nevsky Prospekt to catch the metro up to Finlandsky Station and continue my walk on the north side of the Neva River.

Finlandsky Vokzal, you can see how dark and heavy the clouds got, but it never did rain.

Two reasons for coming to Finlandsky Vokzal. First was to see where it was so I knew where to go for my train the next day, and second reason was the giant statue of Lenin. Looks especially ominous against the clouds:

The fountains in front of the train station made a nice contrast. I love this shot with the bright reddish-orange brick, the dark greyish-blue sky, and the contrast of the bright coats the pedestrians are wearing.

Finally figured out where/how to cross the tributary of the river, and a great view of the Nakhimov Naval Academy with the cruiser Aurora docked in front:

Another shot downriver with the Aurora:

The Aurora was closed to tours today, but that didn’t stop the large groups of Asian tourists from milling about and taking pictures:

Close-up of the Aurora:

Bit more of a walk, and the Peter and Paul Fortress:

Kept walking…and walking…and eventually passed the Yubilyeni Sports Palace. Wait, is that an ad for a pre-season hockey game…tonight? Even better, a bit of googling, and it appeared absolutely free. Registeted on the website, and very quickly my free tickets were e-mailed to me! Score. I had planned on a relaxing evening after over 10 miles of walking during the day, but how could I pass that up!

Given the game was less than two hours away, I cut my walk a little short and took the metro back to the hotel to change clothes and rest up a little bit. Only had about 30 minutes to rest before I had to catch the metro right back to the arena for the game. It was open seating, and appeared 25% full at most:

Let’s get a little closer to the ice…now these are great seats!

Cheerleaders and dragon mascots:

Old Soviet National team memorabilia on display:

It was nearly 9pm at this point, so I opted to skip the third period and head out to get some food and drink before it got too late. On a recommendation from a friend, I headed to Craft Pub to have a bite. Keeping in the theme of the day, a delicious beef stroganoff and a few great beers to wash it down:

Unusual decor in the restaurant…what would the Singapore First Class lounge think of this?!

One final local imperial stout to close out the evening:

With that, more than 10 miles walked and a hockey game, I think I made a pretty amazing dent in seeing St. Petersburg given the extremely limited time I had there. Now, it was time to get to bed so I could enjoy my train ride the next day…and my final stop: Helsinki.

May 062014
 

Through immigration and customs in less than 10 minutes, and had to find my way out of the airport, which was easier said than done due to lack of signage.  Fortunately, I found an ATM on the way, so I could stock up on cash for the next few days.  Got a taxi for 80 bolivianos (which I now know is a ripoff – 60 is the “real” price) – but getting ripped off by $3 on day number one in a country is nothing to get too upset about.  Now, the fact he drove 140kph on the switchbacks down the mountain, that’s another story.  Checked into my hotel the Radisson by 3:15, and was out cold by 3:30.  Woke up the next morning to a fantastic view of La Paz out my window:

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After about an hour to get moving and adjusted to the thin air, decided to start on a walk.  I seriously don’t know what we did before google maps.  I decided to slowly head down to the main tourist area, and was stopping every 2 blocks or so to catch my breath.  13,000+ feet above sea level kinda hits you hard.  Along the walk, I saw a restaurant with a name that sounded familiar.  Checked TripAdvisor, and sure enough I’d seen it there, advertising great breakfasts.  Plus, Cafe Il Lampu had a fantastic seat on a little second floor mini balcony to people watch from:

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Fortified with some espressos, toast, and my new vocab word of the day “huevos duros” or hard-boiled eggs, I was ready for some more slow wandering.  After another 10 minutes or so, I came upon the church of San Francisco, which had a fantastic plaza to camp out and people watch for a bit . Are you catching a theme here?  It was lots of stop and go walking in the thin air for the first several hours:

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Nov 172013
 

Slept in a slight bit, but not too much thanks to what was rapidly becoming a very, very warm hotel room. 24C in the morning. Enjoyed a couple pain au chocolate for my last day in Africa, and then headed down to grab a mid-morning taxi to the centre city to walk around and explore a bit.  It was a short, 10-15 minute ride, and then it was time to explore.  With no plans of how to get back, this promised to be an adventure.  When I’d shared plans for this trip with people I knew who’d traveled west Africa recently, Abidjan was the one place they cautioned to be a little careful.  The recovery from the recent war is still somewhat fragile, and there’s a bit of tension.

I had the taxi drop me off at the Place de la Republique, where I snapped a couple of shots:

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Mar 072013
 

We had two full days to visit Lima, and decided to roughly split them up and use day one to explore the older part of the city and the historical centre, and use day two to visit a museum as well as walk around the newer and happening Miraflores district.  We started out late morning (after a midnight arrival the night before we were in no rush to get going!) by grabbing a cab to the Centro Historico and the Convento de San Francisco church.

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Jun 082012
 

After landing about 1pm, first chore was to get cash from the ABM and head to the hotel. Based on advice from Wikitravel, I decided to get a taxi from the soothingly named “OK Taxi” – and true to name, they were ok! The lady at the counter walked me out to a taxi, who didn’t speak English but we did just fine in French, and he was very curious why I’d chosen to visit his city – even more curious when he found it was for just one day!  Wikitravel had told me to expect 10-12 leva for the taxi, and it came to 9,20…wow, a city with an honest taxi system, I was liking this place already.

This is a good place to mention…I was seriously impressed with Sofia, which given how tired and jet lagged I was says quite a bit.  Although it was a brief trip, I was perhaps more impressed than with any other place I’ve visited in eastern europe.  I can’t wait to go back for a longer trip, and explore more of the country.  Everyone was friendly and helpful, and between English, French, and Russian I never once had any trouble communicating…and not just getting what I “needed” but asking enough questions to get what I was really looking for.  Huge thumbs up!

That said, in deference to points collecting and status whoring, I decided to stay at the super-cheap and affordable Sheraton Sofia.  Was upgraded to a fantastic junior suite which was amazing for the one short night.  Friendly, helpful staff that answered all the questions I had, went out of their way to help me find things, and all-around were awesome.  Highly recommend this place based on my brief experience!

By this time it was around 3pm, and I headed out for a few hour walk in advance of the 6:30pm tour I was planning to take.  Walked a total of around 8km around the city, just taking in sights.  Stopped for a couple espressos (I confess, one of them was at Starbucks for all-too-predictable and needed caffeination) and then just camped out for a little bit at a small cafe near the start of the tour for a couple local beers and people-watching.

For a tour, and to see as much as possible in a short time, I’d decided to go on a walking tour with Free Sofia Tour – which was also ranked the number one thing to do on Tripadvisor!  Let me just say, it was definitely an excellent choice!  They say the tour is about two hours, but our guide was fantastic, and at the urging of our group of approximately 10 he went for nearly 3 hours.  That combined with my earlier walk definitely had my feet sore, but it was well worth it!  If you get a chance to take this tour I highly recommend it, and our guide Kiril was fantastic!

So, on to the tour!  Hopefully I get the names of all the sights right…it was lots to see in three hours!

First stop was the Sveta Nedelya Church.

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