Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Oh 2018, What a Year you Were.

Morocco 2018
Well well well.  2018 is finally over.  It's been a while since we've talked, and a lot has happened in that time. Some people might even refer to what happened to me this year as "their whole life falling apart," but I prefer not to look at it that way.  Although I did find out that my husband of sixteen years had been carrying on an expensive and elaborate affair for the last two of those years, I was also presented with the opportunity to embark on an independent life of my own, forming and strengthening other relationships in the process.  I learned that I had a good life regardless of  my marriage, and will continue to have a good life without it.  Sure, it's  never fun to learn that your most trusted friend and confidante has betrayed you to the extent of destroying the family unit you once shared, but life is an adventure and you never know what is around the next corner.  The silver lining is freedom, which I now have in spades, and - at least for now - we all have all of our fingers and toes.  It sucks, but I'll take it.
Ladycation Mallorca
It all started in April when I went on a spectacular "ladycation" to Spain and Morocco.  The first week was spent in Mallorca at Son Rullan - a finca (farm) on the olive grove laden slopes of the island with a group of close girlfriends.  At the time I was blissfully unaware that my husband had flown his girlfriend out to San Diego from New Orleans for an elaborate ten day trip to Mexico and Joshua Tree, which included numerous culinary hot spots in the Valle and a concert I would have very much liked to see.  The point of the ladies' trip was to reconnect and have some leisure time, and we certainly achieved that goal - sitting around the table pictured below every evening with wine while our private chef prepared dinners for us.  The occasion of the trip was a friend's 40th birthday, and it was a wonderful, relaxed way to celebrate.  I also did a few days in Barcelona on the front side, which was marred by the fact that it rained throughout my visit - something I'm told is a little unusual there. I didn't have a chance to do a lot of eating there - my only truly good meal was a lunch at the Mercato Santa Caterina.  I did go on a tour of Park Guell and the Sagrada Familia, which were spectacular.  I'm sure when the city is at it's best it's a lovely place to visit, but the constant drizzle was a bit of a downer.
After a week in Mallorca, I went back to Barcelona and met up with another friend to fly to Morocco for a week long tour through G Adventures.   The tour was a whirlwind at only a week, but we managed to see the spectacular Roman ruins at Volubilis, the city of Fes and its chaotic and fascinating Medina and ride camels into the Sahara desert for a night in the dunes (pictured up top).  We did a night in the Todra Gorge, a night at Ait Ben Haddou - a famous village which is in a zillion movies, and one night in Marrakech before our own two night stay there for some fantastic shopping. G Adventures was easy to deal with. The places we stayed were not great, but for the price it's hard to complain. We had an outstanding guide who also has his own tour company called Moroccan Gates. If you are looking to put a trip together they can customize one to do anything you want, while G is of course much more limited.
Morocco & Spain 2018
In Marrakech we stayed at the beautiful Riad Jardin Secret located in the medina, and wandered around the souks bargaining & shopping for straw bags, babouche slippers and spices. We also visited a few reputable and expensive shops with beautiful things for fixed prices. Not surprisingly and like anywhere else, you get what you pay for.  Much is made of the "bargaining culture" of Morocco, but with few exceptions, if you are a tourist, you will pay a tourist price.  Some people were very upset to find out they "overpaid" for an item, but I came to look at it as a tax I was willing to pay. The most important thing to know about bargaining is that once you start negotiating, you're likely going to buy the item, and you're going to pay the last price you offer.  If you ask how much something is and make an offer, the game is on. As soon as you walk away, they'll sell it to you for the last price you offered or close to it.  If you don't want to deal with it, don't make an offer.  We made friends with our guide and he had some free time in Marrakech after the tour - so he generously offered to help us find some places on a list of shops and sources I had compiled.  We visited a women's collective that hand-embroiders linen goods, some interior shops selling poufs, rugs and housewares, a lovely minimalist boutique selling high quality pillows, babouches and dishware, a beautiful leather goods and bedding/linen designer and had tunics custom made to measure in only 24 hours.  I'll share a list of sources soon.
Morocco 2018
Now this, dear reader, is the point in the story where I admit to you that I am little more than a walking cliche. As we made our way through the weeklong tour, I found myself developing a curious little crush on our guide.  This happens all the time of course.  On a trip like this, the guide is your hero. He speaks the languages you don't speak, he knows the things you don't know, he takes you to  the places you've never been.  It's like a week long date without the romance.  Try not to judge me for what I say next, but happily married as I (thought I) was, for the first time in sixteen years I found myself hopping out of my comfort zone and onto the back of his Vespa, which whisked me off for an adventure of another kind. The novel-length version of this story would include details like the fact that my husband and I had discussed the possibility of opening our relationship, that I was aware of his affair to a minimal extent and had his express permission to indulge in something like this if the opportunity presented itself - but I would never have believed you if you told me that it would.  We'll stick to the short version here, which is that as crazy as it sounds, after I returned home and told him about it, my husband gave me permission to see him again.
Iceland 2018
We met up in Iceland, land of waterfalls, geysers, seafood and weird little birds called puffins, and lots of rain the week we were there.  After we made our plan but before the trip, my husband dropped - as casually as he could muster - that he wanted to make travel plans of his own to meet up with his girlfriend later in the summer.  I knew this person existed, I had even teased him about the fact that she was his girlfriend, but he had never admitted it until now.  It was quite an exciting moment.  Then I had some time to think, and realized that he had been lying to me.  A lot and for a very long time.  Over the course of the next few weeks it unfolded, slowly and painfully, that he had been seeing this person for two years - the last year and a half of which were a frenzy of romantic getaways, expensive dinners, gifts and visits to - you guessed it, New Orleans. He flew her out here and took her to Joshua Tree and the Valle, Santa Barbara, and Catalina (on a helicopter, no less).  He bought her an Hermes scarf for her birthday - knowing I have a thing for them. He bought her $400 worth of my favorite brand of chocolates - sometimes ordering for us at the same time.  There was more.  Much, much more.  It was shocking - but nothing topped the realization, based on the way the charges to his business credit cards and the dates lined up, that he had brought his girlfriend to our home and slept with her in our bed for three nights while I had been gone just a few weeks before.
Death Valley Roadtrip 11/18
Before Iceland I rented an apartment.  After Iceland, I moved into it.  To his credit, my Moroccan friend did not simply side-step the mess and leave me to deal with the baggage accumulating right before his eyes. Instead, he was kind enough to call me every day and listen to my anguished complaints - once offering the sweet advice, however unrealistic, to try not to think about it very much.  He's still around, actually.  He visited me for a few weeks last month, when we took a road trip to Death Valley & Joshua Tree, and we have plans to meet again in March. He may even come and spend more time here in the summer.  In the meantime, I have plenty of space to hack my way through the unfinished business of my separation and looming divorce, which is exactly as it should be.
Death Valley Roadtrip 11/18
Anyone who has been through a crisis like this knows it's not a simple matter. There is no linear recovery from losing your family unit and most significant relationship in one fell swoop.  In some ways, moving on has been surprisingly easy, and other ways just as difficult as you would expect.  One silver lining is that my friends have really shown up for me, and my relationships with several of them have deepened as a result.  I was also lucky enough to have the resources to find and rent a lovely apartment of my own, which has been a wonderful sanctuary in the past five months.
I'd like to say that I plan to use some of my new found free time to start blogging again.  I really wish I could.  If there is one thing I miss it's this - sharing where I've been and what I've been up to with this community.  I still post on Instagram quite a bit and there are still a few blog posts I've been meaning to put up (including a New Orleans digest - can't let one bad apple spoil the whole city after all!) so  I'll try to get those up at least.

May 2019 bring you peace and happiness, or failing that, more time for Netflix, travel, good chocolate and legal weed.  Cheers to more adventures, love and laughter in the year to come and beyond.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Mexico City Digest - A round up of favorite places and things from my May 2017 trip to Mexico City.

I'm trying something new - using the blog here to supplement my Instagram posts with "Digests" of my trips and some of my favorite places to regularly visit. The Digests will round up my personal favorites from each trip and/or place along with a few thoughts and tips. Coming soon, look for digests from recent and upcoming trips to Florence, the Amalfi Coast, London, LA, New York, Copenhagen and London. And if you don't already, follow me on Instagram! It's pretty fun, I swear! I may even do a roundup of my favorite accounts to help you get hooked. :) Hope you enjoy! xx
Breakfast at Lalo - CDMX
Breakfast at Lalo  - Roma Centro - This was our first, and I think best, breaktfast in CDMX - chilaquiles (verde) and huevos rancheros served with a bowl of soupy black beans.  The eggs were the tell-tale deep orange of pastured eggs, always a good sign.  Lalo is a casual daytime place by the people behind Maximo, a great upscale French bistro across the street which we also enjoyed a couple of days later.  We had good coffee here too - the only downer was the stale croissant - hopefully a one off - but I didn't get the impression that baked goods are their strong suit. (There's a better place for those - Panaderia Rosetta - see below.)  Bonus points for great design and service.
Coffee at Cafe Avellaneda - Coyoacan  - I'm pretty  much ready to move to Coyoacan just to be closer to this place.  It's that good. We found it looking for a spot for coffee before the Frida Kahlo museum, which is a short walk away.  We loved it so much that we went back on our last day. Its a tiny jewel-box of a spot tucked away on a side street.  They have a small bar and a bench along the wall. If you sit there, they bring your coffee on a tray, with a glass of water and a little cookie on a little pottery plate.  It's just perfect.  They also feature delicious coffee cocktails - above is the Juanito, espresso, tonic water and tamarind extract with a twist of orange rind - and a small but perfect selection of baked goods under a glass dome on the counter (I recommend the almond cake) They also sell their coffee beans by the pound.  If you go, will you bring me some??  Please??
The Frida Kahlo House (Casa Azul) - Coyoacan - This was at the absolute top of my list and it lived up to all of my expectations.  There is some, but not a lot of her artwork here - it is really about the house and her life.  The larger and better collections of paintings are at the Diego Rivera and Dolores Olmedo museums, which we did not get to on this trip.  We did not do the audio tour, but I would (will) probably go ahead and spring for it next time - I had already checked my bag at the door so I wasn't able to pay the fee for a photo permit - it's only 30 pesos. I was able to sneak a couple but it would be nice to have more.  Definitely buy tickets in advance online. We went on a late weekday morning and were able to skip the very long line because we had already purchased our tickets. My favorite part was the exhibit of her dresses and clothing - including some of her casts and prosthetics - it was housed in a separate area so I'm not sure if it's a permanent exhibit but it is well worth seeing.  While you're at the Casa Azul be sure to head over to the town square of Coyacan just a few blocks away, and visit the Coyoacan handicrafts markets  - there are two, and they both have a great selection of clothes, baskets huaraches, textiles, etc. at good prices. On Sundays (and probably other days as well) they also have great street vendors, and you can get fantastic churros at Churreria General de Republica.  There is also a great little Antojitos market near Cafe Avellaneda, where we had some fab tostadas after our second visit.
Lunch at Contramar - Condesa - Contramar is a bustling spot and was absolutely packed when we arrived with no reservation at 3 PM on Thursday afternoon - prime comida time.  They told us it would be an hour wait, we said we'd stick it out, and it turned out to be more like 15 minutes.  I'm not sure if we were just lucky, but this "show up and agree to wait an hour" strategy worked for us on two other occasions too - every time we got in within about 15-20 minutes. I really liked our meal at Contramar, but I didn't love it as much as I had hoped. Their ahi tostadas (center bottom above) are their most popular dish - and while they were very good, they weren't better than the tostadas in Ensenada at La Guerrerense or other good ceviche spots elsewhere.  We liked the ceviche a lot, and the "carnitas de pescada" were fun for a change, but the scallop dish (top right) was a little bland in spite of its startling color and the mayonnaise laden camaron tostadas were cloyingly sweet.  A lot of people seem to order the whole fish here, so maybe that's the way to go. I'm including Contramar in this roundup because even though I didn't love our meal, I think it's at least partly because we ordered poorly. It's definitely a happening scene at comida time and people reeallly seem to love it. BTW - they have a "gringo" menu that doesn't have a slot for their daily changing specials - so be sure to ask for those. (They gave us the Spanish one at first, then the gringo one when we asked to see a menu during the meal.)
La Merced Market Tour with Eat Mexico Tours:  Aside from the Casa Azul, the other advance plan we made before leaving on the trip was a tour of La Merced, the largest and oldest food market in Mexico City.  We chose Eat Mexico for this tour and we were really happy with the experience.  Our guide, Carla, was incredibly charming, and took the three of us on the tour all over the fruit and vegetable and prepared food sides of the market.  Interestingly, she said she would not take us in the meat building because we were an all female group, and she didn't want to subject us to harassment by the butchers. I had heard that street harassment is more of an issue in Mexico than it is in the US, but either we were too old or this didn't prove true, because we certainly didn't notice any.  We never felt unsafe anywhere we went, and we walked around quite a bit.  As we went through the tour, Carla took us to her favorite stalls and all of our food and beverages were included - we stopped for tacos, aguas frescas, candy, and even a stall selling insects and other delicacies of Mexico. We had some really good nieves (ice cream) on the street, and finished with mezcal served in a poblano pepper and guacamole with chapulines (yes, grasshoppers!) at a nice restaurant nearby. The tour takes about five hours, and I had been a smidge concerned about spending such a large chunk of time at the market, but it was really worthwhile. La Merced is also something you definitely would not want to do without a guide, at least the first time. The place is huge and a total maze and you would have no idea how to find the good stuff once you got inside.
Palacio Nacional - CDMX
After the tour, since we were close to the city center, we walked over to the Zocalo to see the Cathedral, the Templo Mayor ancient Aztec ruins right next door, and the Diego Rivera Mural at the Palacio Nacional - the History of Mexico.  If you go to CDMX - do not miss this mural - it is worth a special trip, and the Palacio Nacional is a lovely oasis of calm within the city.  We had a little trouble finding the entrance to the building (a sign maybe would have helped?)  but eventually figured it out. The Zocalo itself was a construction site so there wasn't much to look at there, but the balcony bar at the Gran Hotel has a fabulous vantage point and a killer Tiffany stained glass dome in the lobby - like the Palace Hotel in San Francisco - and is worth a stop for a drink.
Lunch at Maximo Bistrot - Roma - This was by far my favorite meal of the trip.  In fact, it's  the best meal I've eaten in recent memory.  We arrived at 3 PM on Saturday afternoon and they squeezed us in after a lovely cocktail in the upstairs bar.  The restaurant wasn't exactly what I expected - it's  described in blog posts and articles as a "French bistro" but it's much more interesting that that.  I'd say Mediterranean fine dining maybe.  We opted to share two starters, two mains and a bottle of wine  Our server very enthusiastically recommended the "Caracol" - which is sea snails, with butter and garlic, plated over a swirl of avocado puree.  I've never loved sea snails but these may have changed my mind.  They were tender and rich, sparkling with butter, citrus and garlic.  The next dish was lightly fried artichoke hearts - served in more garlic and butter but just different enough from the first dish. They brought around hunks of fresh baked sourdough bread and it was all just heavenly with the bottle of dry white wine we ordered.  For mains, anytime I see rabbit on the menu I order it, and it was fantastic here - braised and served in a flavorful demi glace. My friend Kris chose fish and was equally pleased.
Panaderia Rosetta - Colonia Juarez.  There are a few other smaller branches of this bakery cafe sprinkled around including one in Condesa and Roma.  We popped in for a bite on the afternoon of our last day in CDMX - I opted for the lemon meringue cake pictured above, which was better than I dared expect - and Kris had a savory snack of appetizers and salads.  Everything was just "so" and if I were to return to Mexico City (and I am fairly certain I will) I would seriously consider staying in the Air BNB that is literally right upstairs just for easy access to their coffee and pastries in the morning.  The Juarez area was lovely, with tree-lined streets and an upscale residential feel to it  I'm sure they're very busy in the morning but in the afternoon it was nice and peaceful.

For more photos, click here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Glastonbury Festival 2015

Oh Glastonbury, you got me again.  I thought this second visit would be so much easier than the first - we were staying inside the festival in a tipi, some of my favorite bands were playing (even headlining!)  and having been there before we were old pros. We even knew where the secret piano bar was.  But guess what?  It still went by in a flash, and we still didn't get around to everything we wanted to do.  I  now realize that is completely impossible and one of the maddening yet enchanting thing about the festival.  You are going to miss 95% of it no matter what you do.  It's all about choices, and it definitely keeps you coming back for more.
The tipi thing worked out really well.  There were clean compost toilets, showers, a fire pit and a cafe, and we had a lovely huge tipi to enjoy.  It was pretty noisy, with music coming at us from about six different locations during waking hours Friday-Sunday (including a never ending drum circle in the Tipi Field next door.)  The hour-long lines for showers were also inconvenient, but at least there were showers.  I just don't think I could do the whole five days without them. Between the mud, all the walking and the fact that there's no better way to revive when you're hungover or tired, that is a necessity for me. We missed some things about our posh campsite last year - namely the lovely people running it, parking close to the tent and the real double bed we slept on, but the prime location of the tipis made up for a lot of that.
The benefits of being inside the festival were only slightly offset by the misery of having to carry our belongings all the way across the site from Gate D to the tipi field without a backpack or a cart.  That was kind of our own fault though.  Would you go on a three mile uphill hike with two overweight, sagging duffel bags?  Don't answer that.  We ate all our meals in the festival this year, but there was a lot of turnover in the food vendors - and sadly many of the ones I enjoyed last year were missing.  I was also chagrined to notice the prices went up by about a pound across the board, so most meals/sandwiches, etc. were around 8-12 pounds, or about 13-18 bucks a meal.  Seeing as I ate only one real meal every day it wasn't terrible, but when your one meal isn't very good it's a bit of drag.
We did try that Tabun pizza, and it was the best thing we had.  Tied for second were the lobster dripping in herb butter, and the raclette - both down by the Pyramid Stage. The lobster stall was a little overwhelmed, but when I finally got my lobster it was almost worth the crazy long wait.  On the plus side of the wait, met and chatted with the guys who do the visuals for Flying Lotus - one of them even chivalrously gave me his lobster when mine came out looking scrawny and I sent it back. (Picky? Who, me?)  The raclette boys had the whole set up - broiling the wheel of cheese under a heater and then scraping it off onto little paper boats filled with new potatoes, bacon and pickles. (Pro tip: get it with the fries instead of new potatoes.)  I would have pictures and even a video of that for you, but I managed to lock myself out of my phone and lost all of my pictures from Wednesday and Thursday when I had to restart it as a new phone on Friday (which was not easy in a remote location like that, let me tell you!)
My music highlight this year was definitely Florence and the Machine.  She stepped up to the headline slot at the last minute when planned Friday headliners Foo Fighters had to cancel because of Dave Grohl's broken leg.  She absolutely killed it - I almost didn't go because I was by myself, but I am so glad I did. Her cover of Times Like These by the Foo Fighters was the perfect homage. I got as close as I possibly could and I've never been at a show with more energy and enthusiasm.  I loved it so much I bought tickets for her show here in October as soon as I got home.
I was committed to changing it up and getting around to as many new experiences as possible this year, and going in the "back" of the Rabbit Hole was close to the top of this list.  We went on Thursday since we figured the lines were only going to get longer throughout the weekend.  When you finally get to the front, they usher you through a thigh high door into a room decorated Alice in Wonderland style, where they ask you riddles, spin you around and generally just try to disorient you as much as possible before sending you through a lighted tunnel to a tented dance club area - there is a little outdoor space and a second smaller tented area too with a live band. Adjacent to this is an even more exclusive "VIP" area with a central outdoor fireplace and live music -  it was rumored there was a hot tub back there this year too.
The Rabbit Hole seemed a lot more crowded this year - Since it's tucked up at the top of the Park I think in years past a lot of people didn't make it all the way there, but that seemed to have changed.  We were there for the "Secret Massive Finale" (below) - which was Mark Ronson doing a DJ set.  I also made it to see Fatboy Slim in Silver Hayes this year - a lot of people complained about the venue being dangerously overcrowded, but we were kind of off to the side and didn't notice any problems.  Arcadia was also pretty spectacular this year with their newly added baby spiders, and one of my festival highlights was seeing The Age of Glass at the Bimble Inn at 1 AM on Monday. (Can you tell I spent quite a bit of time enjoying the nightlife this year?)
I did still manage to get around to a few daytime sets including Alt J, where we discovered the joy of  a lazy afternoon up on the hill surrounding the Pyramid.  The sound is really surprisingly good up there.  We were right in front of people's tents - must be an interesting experience to have that view all weekend.  We missed Lionel Ritchie in the Sunday "Legends" slot - he drew the largest crowd of the weekend just like Dolly Parton last year. We opted for a catered Sunday lunch at the Deluxe Diner in Shangri La instead, but I caught some of Lionel on the taped coverage. It looked like he put on a good show and was tickled by the fantastic reception from the crowd.  I also heard but did not see the Dalai Lama's Sunday morning speech. Another side benefit of being in a tipi, we were close enough to the Green Fields to wake up to it coming through over the loudspeaker.
We found the piano bar - which wasn't very difficult at all.  All day Wednesday and Thursday you could see and hear them building it, just off to the side of the Kings Meadow (Stone Circle) - people wandered through during the day and played the piano occasionally - I tried to go Saturday morning but we were deterred by the huge line - it only holds about 30 people.  Also new this year, a couple had set up two tubs nearby  - one "indoor" in a tent and one outdoor with a view - offering hot seaweed baths heated by a woodfired stove. It looked interesting, but I don't know if they had very many takers.
We closed out the weekend with the Chemical Brothers at the Other Stage on Sunday night (before going on to Arcadia, Bimble Inn and the Rabbit Hole...again...)  Though I probably missed more of the music than I should have one great thing about Glastonbury is most of the lineup is televised on the BBC - the whole thing is on TV in England and a lot of it was also uploaded to YouTube.  Since you can only be in one place at one time and you have to sleep at some point, the televised coverage is fantastic for seeing what you missed.  Of course it's not the same as being there, but in some ways it's actually better.  You can  actually see the performance and you're not standing in the rain/being trampled by the crowd/broiling in the sun, etc.  It's helped me discover a lot of bands that I might never have found otherwise like Years and Years, Future Islands, Jamie T, Jamie XX, etc. Unfortunately the BBC has marked all of their You Tube videos private now (I think they only share them for thirty days.) but many of them have been uploaded by other viewers - poke around here if you want to have a look.
All in all, it was another amazing, exhausting, overwhelming, fantastic year.  I met some fun people (one of whom has actually turned into a real life friend - hi Helen!)  hung out with some friends from last year, and made other "friends" I'll probably never see again, but that's how the Glastonbury spirit works.  Every time you go, you have a little more experience to go on, some new areas to see, a list of bands you will probably never make it to, and (hopefully) you let yourself get carried off to something new and unexpected.  I also discovered the joys of showing the festival to people experiencing it for the first time, which might be the most fun of all.

(If you're interested, I also wrote about 2014 here, here and here.)