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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: April 2016 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me. April 2016

Where I’ve been

I began April in Mexico City, road tripped around Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and finished my month-long stay in Mexico on the tiny Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres. After a short stop in New York City (just enough time to say Hi to a dear friend and to stuff my face with a bagel, something I’d been craving for months!) I flew to Tucson, Arizona, where I am ending the month – but I am actually packing up my stuff right now, about to head out on a mini road trip to my next destination, but more on that below.April 2016 Mexico Arizona

What I’ve been up to

This month was supposed to be a relaxing one, at least the second half, but somehow I never slowed down.. Story of my life, I guess. I ended my time in Mexico City with a near disaster (more on that below), but also with a great weekend that involved a return to Frida Kahlo’s house, the Casa Azul, and a fun day in Coyoacan, market madness and lots of craft beer. Then I flew to Cancun where I met up with my favorite travel buddy (again, after traveling together in Colombia a couple of months ago) to road trip around the Yucatan, which just so happens to be one of my favorite parts of Mexico. For eight days, we swam in cenotes (underwater sinkholes), beach hopped along the Caribbean and got our culture fix by visiting several Mayan ruins before a chilled out island getaway in Isla Mujeres. And with that, my 3-month winter escape to Latin America came to an end..MexicoMid-April I found myself in New York for a minute before I jumped on a plane to Tucson for my fifth visit to southern Arizona since 2010. While I usually use these weeks of housesitting to catch up on work, this year it seems like I had much more ‘play time’ than work time.. First, my friend Katie came to visit me and I found myself frolicking around old western towns, hiking in between giant Saguaro cacti, revisiting the beautiful San Xavier del Bac Mission and sampling all the craft beer Tucson has to offer (well maybe not all of it, but quite a lot!) and then I had a surprise visitor distracting me with a visit to a PowWow (get together of Native American communities) in Phoenix and a sweaty canyon hike. Plus, I also finally made an effort to meet some new people in Tucson and caught up with friends I made on previous visits. And just like that, my three weeks here are over.. But I hope this wasn’t my last visit, because the more time I spend in Tucson, the harder I fall for the city, discovering more and more cool stuff.

Arizona

Highlights

Road tripping around the Yucatan

I spent hours planning this road trip, but in the end it was so worth all the sleepless nights and the effort that went into it: the road trip couldn’t have gone any better. Beginning with a fabulous stay at the exquisite Grand Hyatt in Playa Del Carmen to accident-free driving to introducing my favorite girl to really good Mexican food, not the stuff you get in the States!yucatan road trip
Desert hikes in southern Arizona

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know how much I love the desertscape of Southern Arizona – and I was happy that I had several visitors who got me out of the house to hike some of my favorite trails here and explore some new ones. Bonus: it’s spring, which means the cacti are blossoming, making the dessert look extra pretty.arizona desert hikes

Returning to Isla Mujeres

I fell in love with Isla Mujeres when I first visited the tiny Caribbean island in 2010, and I decided to spend an entire weekend there after our road trip – even though I had no idea if I’d still like the island after all these years of travel and all the places I’ve seen since then. Moreover, I didn’t know if Isla Mujeres had changed – had it become just as touristy and crowded as Playa del Carmen, a place I used to like a lot but that doesn’t do much for me now? I had nothing to worry about: Isla Mujeres was as charming as ever, and yes, it had become more touristy, but just look at these pictures… what’s not to love?!isla mujeres

What went right

Great publicity

Bild Der FrauThis month was an awesome month for publicity – An article about me appeared in one of Germany’s biggest women’s magazines, and I was featured by Lonely Planet! Being included in a list of the Top 50 Travel Bloggers was another pleasant surprise yesterday.

My first Mexican road trip

As I said above, my Mexican road trip was a blast, but it was also my first time renting a car in Mexico for longer than a day and driving on roads I hadn’t driven on prior to this visit. The only reason I was confident enough to sign up for this trip was because I remembered from living on the Riviera Maya in 2010 and 2012 that driving was a breeze in this part of Mexico, but I was still nervous if everything would go okay with the rental, if the route I had mapped out was too ambitious and if the car would be safe everywhere we parked it (sometimes with all our belongings inside). I am happy to report that everything went smoothly and without a glitch – and this road trip is perfect for anyone who wants to explore the Yucatan, so I’ll be writing about it in more detail soon.Mexico road trip

What went wrong

The almost robbery in Mexico City

My time in Mexico City almost ended with a tragedy – on my very last day in the city my friend and I were strolling through the big Saturday market that sprawls out into the streets surrounding La Merced, the city’s biggest market.

I was happily snapping some pictures and munching on a mango when all of a sudden I felt someone grab me from behind, wrapping his arms around my chest so that I couldn’t move my arms, while a second guy tried to rip my dSLR camera out of my right hand. Luckily I had strapped it around my wrist tightly and he couldn’t just grab it, and I started screaming like crazy. My friend pushed the guy who was holding me, and we both fell to the ground, I was holding my bag and camera tight to my body prepared to defend them, but they decided to run. My friend ran after them, not sure if they’d gotten anything from me or not, and saw them disappear into a courtyard right off the market. Knowing where these thieves lived we decided to get the police involved but they seemed a bit lackluster about the situation. They still came with us to the house, but told us they couldn’t go in without a permit / order.

I can’t believe how lucky I was – this could’ve ended much worse. I had my passport in my bag (required to go inside the National Palace which we had planned for that day), my Kindle, and a chunk of cash. However – I wasn’t entirely lucky during the incident: in the fall, I smashed my camera lens which died a slow death after the incident and had to be replaced, and I hit my big toe so hard that I was sure it was broken.

mexico city merced market dani
This picture was taken minutes before the attack happened…

The credit card scare

At the beginning of the month, I logged into my account to check the balance on my credit card. But what was that? In my ‘Account Summary’, my credit card didn’t show up! Where was my credit card balance?? I looked everywhere in my online banking account, but there was no sign of my credit card. No message either about it being blocked or something. It was midnight in Mexico, so I had to wait until the next morning to call my bank in the UK. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night. How could my credit card simply disappear from my account?!

When I finally got hold of my bank the next morning, it took an hour on the phone with them to resolve what had happened – the card had been blocked after I the rental car company I rented with try to charge a $2,000 deposit for the car. Yes, these high deposits are customary here in Mexico.. And so my bank put a flag on the account.

dani isla mujeres
Dealing with British banks makes me want to RUN.

I lost more things… And this time, really expensive things.

The ‘lost items’ section seems to evolve into a running segment in my monthly round-ups, much to my dismay. After losing clothes and my Sennheiser headphones last month, and my Kindle charger as well as camera charger the month before, this month’s loss was very tragic: I left my beloved $300 JBL headphones on the flight from New York to Chicago on my way to Tucson. When I realized what had happened while waiting for my connecting flight, I immediately ran back to the gate I’d arrived on, but I was told nothing had been handed in. Oh well, I guess somebody else is enjoying these amazing headphones now.

And not only did I lose my headphones in transit, I also managed to leave my belt behind in Cancun when I took it off to go through security in the airport. Only on the plane did I notice that I was suddenly belt-less! I really hope May goes by without me losing something.

isla mujeres dani cliffs
If I lose anything next month, I might jump off a cliff

What went almost wrong

The almost missed ferry & almost missed flight

For my last night in Mexico, I had booked a hotel near the airport in Cancun, because we were leaving on a super early flight the next morning. The plan was to spend the entire day on Isla Mujeres and head back to the mainland just to sleep there – why waste a day in Cancun when we can spend it in this island paradise? I had seen online that ferries were running until late at night, which was perfect for us – that way, we could even have dinner on Isla Mujeres!

But when we, happily stuffed with tacos, made our way to the ferry terminal around 8pm, we arrived to complete darkness – the terminal was closed! I panicked immediately, knowing that the first morning ferry wouldn’t run until 5am – too late for us to make it to the airport and to catch our flight. I started to hyperventilate, because neither my friend nor I could miss that flight the next morning. In my head, I already saw us pay for a private boat to the mainland, and ran over to a taxi driver to find out if there might be a car ferry or another way to get off the island that night, and he simply pointed to the ferry terminal next to the one we were at. Yes, this one had closed for the night, but the main one was still open. I almost suffered a heart attack in that near-travel fail, thinking I had screwed up and maybe ferries weren’t going late on Sundays. Luckily, everything went according to plan when we finally boarded the ferry.

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The sunset was worth missing the ferry for

As if that wasn’t enough, the next morning we then nearly missed our flight even though we were at the airport two hours prior to our flight departure – and just because we were chatting at the gate waiting for the flight to board.. Our conversation was so deep that we forgot to pay attention and somehow missed that everyone had already boarded – they were ready to close the doors! Luckily we noticed that we were the only ones left in the departure area before the plane departed.

What’s next for me

I am finishing up my housesit in Tucson and am almost on my way to the next housesit: a month in Austin, Texas! I’ve been wanting to visit Austin for years, so when this opportunity came my way, I didn’t have to think long.

And because my travel plans aligned with those of a travel buddy I am finding myself now road tripping from Tucson to Austin, stopping along the way at one of the most remarkable places I’ve visited in the US, the stunning white desert of White Sands in New Mexico (which I hope I’ll get to photograph at sunset this time around) and in Big Bend National Park for a day of hiking before eating my way through Austin for the next few weeks. If you know Austin and have recommendations for restaurants, food trucks, craft beer bars and things to do, please share them in the comments!tucson cowboy hatsYou can follow along in real time on Snapchat: mariposa2711

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Polaroid of the week: Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Coyoacan, Mexico

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polaroid of the week mexico 2016 coyoacan mexico cityLast week, I was supposed to take another trip and visit a town I’ve been wanting to visit for a while now – San Miguel de Allende – and an old favorite, Oaxaca.

However, somehow I never made it out of the city. I had too many projects to finish and didn’t want to rush through these places – you know I like to take my time in each place.

And in hindsight, staying in Mexico City was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. Even though I spent weeks here, I only ever felt like I scratched the surface instead of getting a real feel of life in Mexico’s giant capital.

On this past visit, I finally got to know the city like a local, stayed with friends, discovered off-the-beaten-path places, found a local coffee shop for me to work in every day, visited my favorite bakery several times, found a local market I went to for tapas, fresh fruit and vegetables, explored neighborhoods that I didn’t know well before, like Doctores, Roma and La Condesa, let my friends take me to their favorite Cuban bar (the live music was amazing) and checked out a pulqueria popular with Mexicans in their mid-20s that was recommended to us on a night of bar hopping. We also wandered through a couple of flea markets, went to an indoor climbing hall and I continued my quest to try all of Mexico’s craft beers (impossible to try them all, I think – there are so many now!).

Of course I did a little bit of touristing as well: I showed my friend the remarkable murals in the Palacio De Bellas Artes, we listened to the Mariachi bands in Plaza Garibaldi, had coffee and cake with a view on the balcony of the Cafe De La Gran Ciudad, did some museum hopping – I’ve already mentioned that I got a lot of culture in last month and I loved it. And last but not least, we went to Coyoacan, a neighborhood in the south of the city where I visited Frida Kahlo’s house, the Casa Azul, for the second time. I am a huge fan of her art and love everything about her, so I was ecstatic to be able to visit her house for a second time, marvel at her beautiful kitchen, dresses, paintings and her studio.

We also took our time exploring more of Coyoacan, which is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city, with cobble-stoned tree-lined streets, lovely plazas and parks, a beautiful market and loads of restaurants and bars. After discovering several hipster bars, a great cinema that shows interesting documentaries (and has an outdoor cinema), tasty vegetarian food and beautiful streets with brightly colored houses, I fell in love even more with this neighborhood and entertained the thought of moving here for a longer period.

While I am not sure what the future holds and if I’ll return to Mexico for a few months, there’s no question that I’ll be returning to Mexico D.F. – there is so much more for me to discover in this city that is so vibrant and full of life.

Hasta pronto, Mexico City!

Also check out: 33 Things I Love About Mexico

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Our Top 5 Favorite Destinations of 2012

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What a year! we really outdid ourselves in 2012, traveling to India, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica, Buenos Aires and now Santiago de Chile. We are putting together lists of our ‘top five favorites’ to help you with some inspiration for where to go in 2013. Earlier this month we looked back at our favorite beaches of 2012and now our favorite overall destinations of the year. We hope you get some ideas for your own travels. As always, we are happy to answer any questions in the comments about your trip planning for 2013.

5. Arenal, Costa Rica

I thought we knew Costa Rica up and down, except for the Osa Peninsula, which is a truly off-the-grid adventure deserving of its own dedicated trip.  That’s why, after our housesit on a small Costa Rican beach this year, we didn’t plan to travel much. We slipped in a short stint at one of our favorite nearby beaches, Samara, and headed to La Fortuna to see Arenal Volcano, which neither of us had been to yet. In a rare move for Central American travel, we rented a car and drove from the Pacific coast,through national parks and jungles, curved and swiveled around Lake Arenal and arrived in town, thinking the gorgeous ride would be the highlight of our stay. We couldn’t have been more wrong. We love everything about the set up in Arenal. Even though it hasn’t erupted in years, the volcano is an imposing figure you can’t miss from anywhere in town. At a certain point on the road out of town, practically every hotel has hot springs and we spent a day at the best choice of them all, Tabacon Grand Spa. There are massive waterfalls and a full range of day hikes around the volcano, depending on your level of fitness. Restaurants in town are overpriced tourist traps, but we opted to eat in the typical Costa Rican ‘sodas’ which offer great value for money and the healthiest option in town, a vegetarian casado.
Arenal La Fortuna Costa Rica

4. Kampot, Cambodia

This little city is not the first place you’ll hear about in Cambodia – that would be the ancient kingdom of Angkor Wat outside of Siem Reap. You would probably also hear about Phnom Penh, the country’s capital and the beautiful coastline of the Sihanoukville area (which we named one of the Top 5 favorite beaches we visited year). Somewhere further down the list is the sleepy city of Kampot, famous for its production of both salt and pepper. Kampot Pepper is served on the table of the finest restaurants in Paris, we were told on a day tour which brought us out to the salt fields, the pepper fields, a fishing village,and a gorgeous hike in the countryside. Everything in this quiet, riverside town is accessible by bicycle and the restaurant scene is surprisingly developed – we had easily the best coffee of our time in Cambodia right here in Kampot.
Kampot Cambodia

3. Mexico City, Mexico

We have spent quality time in Mexico City before, including two weeks in 2010, but there is a specific reason why it makes our list tin 2012. Mexico City has what only the greatest of all cities have, and that is the ability to be all things to all people and yet completely different with every single visit. We returned to Mexico City in August for a long weekend and managed to pound the pavement for hours on end and not retrace our old stomping grounds and favorite spots from our trip in 2010. We spent one day at an art market in San Angel, another in the suburb of Ciudad Satélite, where we stayed at the beautiful Casa Roa Bed & Breakfast,and another on a walking tour of the San Rafael neighborhood. Two months later, we ended up back in the city during a 12 hour layover, so with limited time we headed straight to the Centro Historico and scarfed down our favorite tacos on Calle Uruguay and hit up Dani’s favorite La Ideal bakery for some fresh pastries. As we walked through the streets back to the modern, efficient airport bus that evening, we couldn’t help but notice the smiles. For being such a big city in a country with such a dangerous reputation, the capital is packed with families, lovers, artists, businessmen and women, police, protestors, market vendors and tourists all going about their days and we loved every chance we had this year of dipping into Mexico City life.
Mexico City

2. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Popular with tourists and expats of all kinds, this northern Thai city has the magical ability to make its visitors adapt to its pace and style, which is a far cry from buzzing, booming Bangkok. Both within the brick square mile of its more touristy city walls and out into the more local neighborhoods, Chiang Mai incorporates all the things we love about Thailand without most of the mess we disliked in the capital and down on some of the overrun islands. For example, the city is practically littered with ornate, peaceful Buddhist temples and monks in their orange robes constantly sweep past on motorbikes and bicycles, in tuk tuks and on foot, always with a smile that feels both insanely exotic and totally normal at the same time. And yet, Chiang Mai is also stocked with modern coffee shops, really fun walking markets, super fast internet, fashionable locals and online entrepreneeurs from all walks of life. Most of all, we ate like Kings in Chiang Mai. Organic, healthy food at under $4 a meal, fruit smoothies for under a dollar…yes, we most definitely miss Chiang Mai…
Chiang Mai Thailand

1. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires takes the top spot by a landslide, miles beyond anywhere else we visited this year. If you remember, I wasn’t even that impressed with the city when we landed there in November, as it reminded me of anywhere I’d already loved in Europe – Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris. So, it may have taken a little while for Buenos Aires to win us over. It didn’t do so overwhelmingly, or all at once. Instead, it seeped in slowly…the romance, the food, the culture, the architecture, the street art, the hot-blooded protestors, the complicated history and complex politics of ‘isms’ and ‘ists’, the dinners at 11pm, even (and I swore I wouldn’t say this, but I am) the accent that makes ‘playa’ into ‘plaisha’, the rolling Italian speech rythyms and the hand gestures to match. The city isn’t perfect, with garbage on the streets, corrupt politicians, and rates of inflation we’ll never understand, but that only adds to the intrigue. Loving Buenos Aires was unexpected, but knowing it exists settles our wandering souls just a bit. Buenos Aires is our number one pick because it is the only place we say that you really have to go, a place where you could spend a year and not scratch the surface. It is definitely the city we visited in 2012 we could see ourselves returning to multiple times throughout our lives.
buenos aires argentina

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: Casa Roa, Mexico City

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Achy bones, heavy eyelids and tongues too twisted to speak Spanish, Dani and I lumbered slowly to our room at the Casa Roa Bed and Breakfast after midnight, falling almost immediately into bed and taking in nothing of our surroundings at all. Luckily Casa Roa’s Mi Casa es Su Casa motto is in full effect and we were welcomed with open arms, even at that ungodly hour.

Casa Roa Mexico CityOur true first impression of the B&B was waking up in our room – possibly the best way to take it all in for the first time. The sun shone in through tiny cracks in the heavy dark curtains, which, when I opened them, revealed bright pink, yellow and orange light filtered through the city smog on a quiet morning in the peaceful Satellite neighborhood far outside the buzzing center of Mexico City.

The sleek and chic split level Casa Roa house is just one in an entire area of upscale suburban homes. Our sunny upstairs room is spacious, with a comfortable Queen bed, 50in flat screen TV with Netflix streaming included, an en-suite bathroom and a closet with enough room for a diva. The simple green garden below is lined with comfortable lawn furniture and fruit trees.

Casa Roa Mexico City yardFrom the fig trees we eat fresh fig jam for breakfast in the morning, along with a delicious homemade Mexican breakfast of chilaquiles, strong coffee and other exotic fruits. The table in the shiny modern kitchen is right in the heart of the room and feels casual, like we’re visiting friends rather than being guests at a hotel. The television is on whenever we are in there, in the morning we watched cartoons, and then a very strange 1970s Mexican film with a Lucha Libre wrestler and some rather dramatic women. It made for a bizarre backdrop to breakfast, but most definitely an authentic, if quirky, Mexican feeling.

Casa Roa Mexico City kitchenBeing so far outside the city center we decided to explore the Satelite neighborhood and recover from a long trip the day before. We picked up wine, cheese, bread and other nibbles at the supermarket nearby to have a quiet night in the room watching a film. Otherwise we spent the day catching up on work and sleep.

The hotel’s location is far from Mexico’s Centro Historico, beyond the reach of the city’s excellent subway system.  This makes Casa Roa a better spot for business people working in the area, longer-term students, frequent visitors to the city who know their way around, and digital nomads who prioritize work. The wi-fi here is as high speed and dependable as it gets for that. First time visitors to the city might also prefer Casa Roa and the feeling of having a ‘home’ in a city of 22 million people, especially one that is so warm and friendly to guests. Just be prepared to take a lot of cabs or navigate a very ‘local’ bus experience.

Casa Roa B&B Mexico CityStand Out Feature: The Food

During our stay, we gobbled down Gabi’s truly traditional Mexican breakfasts of chilaquiles and huevos rancheros, everything made fresh right into the kitchen as we drank coffee and chatted together. Later in the day, Gabi happened to be making Rajas con Papas, or grilled poblano pepper and potato salad. She made us a whole plate full, just so we could try it and it was so delicious. She showed me how they grill, then sweat the peppers to get the skin off, and I walked out of the hotel stay with an amazing new authentically Mexican recipe. The fridge is open for guests to use, as is the stove and all the dishes, and there even a couch and TV in the kitchen, encouraging you to spend time together in there. If the way to our hearts was our stomachs, Casa Roa won us over in the kitchen.

Casa Roa Mexico City homemade breakfastRoom for Improvement: Information availability 

The owner of the hotel, Isabel, is the matriarch and head of the house. In fact, it was her warmth and friendliness mentioned on Tripadvisor that encouraged us to stay all the way out in the Satelite area. Unfortunately, a family emergency kept Isabel away that weekend, along with the little things we had read about, like how Isabel is always in the kitchen and around the house, helping guests with recommendations and information and calling cabs and basically making everyone feel at home. In her absence, however, we felt a little bit stranded. Our suggested solution is a folder filled with information, for those cases that Isabel can not be available. In it we would include maps of the local area pinpointing restaurants, food, stores and walks to do in the neighborhood and local tourist attractions. We would add clear directions, a map and instructions to the nearest buses to the city center, as well as little pieces of paper with the Casa Roa address and directions in Spanish from the center for the cab drivers, plus average taxi rates to main points of interest. We would have also really liked a welcome letter explaining the history of the house, how it became a bed and breakfast plus details on when breakfast is served, when the gates get locked, and other little things we felt were otherwise missing in her absence.

Casa Roa in Mexico CityOverall 

Casa Roa is an extremely comfortable, gorgeously decorated home away from home offering a glimpse of authentic Mexican life in contemporary, upscale  surroundings.

Location: Fernando Gonzalez Roa #8 | Cto. Juristas, Satelite. Edo de Mexico | Mexico city, 53100
Price: Starting at $75.00 for a double room; breakfast included.
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly: Good wi-fi connection and work space in the communal kitchen as well as a living room
Amenities: Free wi-fi, complimentary breakfast, Netflix, laundry service
Website:
www.casa-roa.com

casa roa b&b in Mexico City

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: Chill Out Flat B&B in Mexico City

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You never know which small detail you ignore in the middle of a stressful day that will become an issue later.

Our backpacks were heavy and getting heavier by the minute as we walked back and forth along one block of Mexico City’s fabulously restored Centro Historico. According to the address and the map, the Chill Out Flat B&B had to be there somewhere, but where would the cozy little bed and breakfast we saw online be hiding amongst some of Mexico’s grandest historical buildings, we wondered.

Mexico City Centro HistoricoA female security guard in front of what appeared to be an office building watched us pass by, but gave me a knowing look when I caught her eye. When we wandered by a second time a few minutes later, I climbed the steps to ask her what I thought was a ridiculous question, about a little hotel. Before a word left my mouth she smiled and said in her Spanish accent – Chillout?

Why yes, yes, we are looking for the Chillout, we said happily. This way, she said, pointing us to the elevator in the back of the building. 1st floor.

It was then that a few words on a screen buried deep in my memory wiggled its way into my mind. Ah…yes…complicated directions in the confirmation email. I meant to have those up on my iPhone.

The building itself is a six-story building, with apartments and businesses spread throughout. Once we arrived on the first floor, we entered a patio surrounded by closed, private apartment doors. Sure this had to be wrong or the start of some strange adventure, one quick glance to the right down a short hallway revealed a sign, in colorful stick-on block letters: CHILL OUT FLAT B&B. Seconds later we were embraced by a ray of sunshine, Eloisa, who owns and operates the place with her partner David.

Despite being in the middle of cleaning, a mop in her gloved hands, she couldn’t have been more friendly as she led us into the apartment and chatted for a few minutes before rushing off to make our room ready.

If the Chill Out felt as comfortable as staying in a private home, it’s because that is essentially what it is. David’s mother bought the apartment years before the city center’s renovations, against warnings from friends and family about what was then an undesirable neighborhood. Thanks to her foresight, twenty five years later, she has let David and Eloisa run the B&Bl while she lives in a much more comfortable spot in Mexico City’s high-end suburbs. The living room is comfortable with two small couches around a coffee table filled with guide books, maps, flyers and pamphlets, plus a TV, DVD player and computer with internet access in the corner. The fully-stocked kitchen is available 24 hours a day to guests, so we immediately made ourselves each a cup of green tea and set about planning our afternoon in Mexico City while we waited for our room to get ready. Within minutes, the Chillout felt like home.

Mexico City Chill Out Flat B&BWe don’t meet David until later that evening, when we are busy writing and working at one of the kitchen tables. He popped over from the apartment across the hall where they now live. David could not be more friendly, and we talked travel for ages. A flight attendant for a few years, including the first year or so when he launched the bed and breakfast, David finally quit serving drinks at 35,000 feet when the B&B took off – thanks, in part, to the hundreds of five star reviews on Tripadvisor. Today, they have taken their success to the second floor of the same building, where they have opened a Chillout Yoga Studio.

There are six rooms here, so the feeling is incredibly intimate. Ours is outside the main apartment, with a separate entrance. The en-suite room is small and simple. Immaculately clean with a comfortable Queen bed, a bedside table and lamp, dresser and colorful Mexican paintings on the wall. It could be a room in anyone’s house, except that extra bit more comfortable which, along with warm, fuzzy towels and organic toiletries make it a quality bed and breakfast.

Mexico City Chill Out Flat B&B roomStand Out Feature: Community in the Kitchen

Every morning from Monday to Saturday, Eloisa prepares a full Mexican breakfast for guests. Unfortunately we are only there on Sunday, but in a way this gave us some great insight. Even on her one day off, the kitchen is fully stocked with homemade yogurt, fresh fruit, breads and jams, coffee, tea, a kettle, water and other little snacks available until 10pm. The kitchen is roomy, with three tables and unlike other B&Bs where the kitchen feels off-limits, the sense of community feels almost like a hostel, though the cleanliness, quality and privacy are definitely several levels up from that.

Stand Out Feature: Location

Normally we try to avoid choosing a feature that owners have so little control over, but it would be a mistake not to at least emphasize how incredible the location of the Chill Out Flat B&B is. A ten minute walk from the Zocalo, and we can see the Palacio de Bellas Artes from the window. After a few hours of exploring the city center, we hopped back upstairs and just had a quick lie down, maybe 30 minutes or so, before heading back out to find the famous Mexico City bakery and have a drink at a popular nearby restaurant. Later that night, when Dani ran out to get us tickets for the airport bus in the morning, she left the hotel and was immediately engulfed in a street festival. At 6am the next morning we snuck out and walked five minutes to the airport bus. Staying at the Chillout is like having an extremely well-connected friend with a coveted downtown apartment.

Room for Improvement: Being picky – Sticky locks

Magnified by being placed in this section, the issue of the lock is a small detail, it is just the only issue we had, so it bears mention here. The lock to the main apartment is old, sticky and complicated to open. We came in and out often and early, and felt we had to rattle, bang and scrape at the lock too much, once or twice feeling like we actually wouldn’t get in on our own and worrying at the same time about waking up the other guests. Although the whole experience is very personal and homey, nice, new industrial keys and locks would be a final little touch bringing the Chill Out to perfection.

Mexico City Chill Out Flat B&B

Overall

A stay at Chillout Flat B&B is an intimate, personal experience unlike any other in Mexico City, a perfect combination of friendliness, quality and location at a completely fair price. The only thing you have to worry about is reading those directions in the confirmation email carefully. David and Eloisa take care of the rest for you.

Location: Bolivar #8, Apto #102, Centro Historico, C.P.06000 Mexico D.F.
Price: Starting at $90.00 for a double room / $63.00 for a single room; breakfast included.
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly: Great wi-fi connection and work space in the communal kitchen
Amenities: Free wi-fi, complimentary breakfast, excellent location in the Centro Historico
Website:
www.chilloutflat.com.mx

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Sugar high in Mexico City: La Pasteleria Ideal

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Mexico City.

22 million people pounding the pavement and stop and go traffic packs even the narrowest alleyways. Stop and look around for just a minute and there is an ever-present feeling that some type of major event has just let out in one of the world’s busiest cities.

In fact, late one recent Sunday afternoon, we discovered that everyone in the city is either headed to or coming from one single location. That place is a bakery called La Pasteleria Ideal on Avenida 16 September. Like ants marching into their mothership, Mexicans from all walks of life pile in through the tall 19th century wooden doors: young Goth teenagers with headphones, hats and chains, suburban housewives, overweight seniors,bodybuilders, police officers and skate punks, all with their mothers, invade this one single bakery and pour out again with millions of calories wrapped up to go.

pasteleria ideal mexico city cakes and pastriesIn business since starting out as a bread bakery in the 1920s, La Ideal’s three bakeries have become ingrained as a part of the fabric of Mexico City. Tables are stacked high with every possible combination of chocolate, custard, dulce de leche and dough formed into multi-tiered cakes, soft cookies, flaky pastries, donuts dripping in frosting. Hundreds of sugar addicts literally pile dozens upon dozens of sweets onto oversized silver trays in a way that would make an innocent bystander think the end of the world were near.

pasteleria ideal mexico city cakes & pastriesDani was immediately in her element the minute we walked through the doors. She handed me our bag, the camera and floated off on Cloud 9 to explore her Mexican Mecca. Her last words, and knowing nod, allowed me reprieve. This was too much for me, an itching fear inside me growing at the thought of what this insulin-charged crowd would do if the donuts ran out. You would think the four security guards circling inside the store might calm me, or the fact that, even late on a Sunday afternoon, more than 20 staff members dressed in white and blue were still ushering out cart after cart of freshly baked goods. As I bobbed and weaved my way out the door, I watched one of those employees get stopped with his cart in the middle of an aisle, and a seemingly docile mother of three clear an entire level of the cart onto her tray.

Mexico City Pasteleria IdealIn the thirty minutes I waited outside for Dani, I watched as hundreds of people poured back out the doors, each with their beautifully wrapped packages. Those few people who purchased only a few items had them wrapped in thick paper, tied shut with a string. Most others, however, left weighted down by three or four large boxes, all tied together with heavy-duty twine. When Dani came out, I’ve never seen her smile so wide. On our way back to our hotel with our La Ideal package, we were suddenly aware of just how many people, even several blocks from the bakery itself, were carrying their pastries, too.

Mexico City pasteleria ideal packagesBoarding our plane to Costa Rica early the next morning, I caught a glint of approval in the flight attendant’s eye as Dani passed with her pastries. Hell, based on the pandemonium the day before, I thought she’d try to buy one off us. If you want to lock in on a true Mexico City tradition, head to one of the three La Ideal Pasteleria locations in the city.

Mexico City Pasteleria Ideal

 

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Polaroid of the week: Aztec performer on Mexico City’s Zocalo

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polaroid of the week mexico city aztec performerWhen we visited Mexico City the first time in 2010, we spent nearly two weeks exploring all the major tourist sights the city has to offer. On our second visit this month, we stayed away from all the tourist sites and explored lesser known neighborhoods like San Angel and San Rafael instead. For our last day, however, we decided to return to Mexico City’s main plaza, the Zocalo, for some people watching and for some Tlayudas – a Mexican street food we had discovered on our first visit.

Returning to the Zocalo felt as if we had never left. We remembered how we used to watch the Soccer World Cup on a big screen with thousands of Mexicans, and how we gazed in awe at the Aztec dancers who are performing their dances here on the weekends. Mexico City is built on the grounds of the Aztec’s empire former capital Tenochitlan, and its main temple, the Templo Mayor, sat right where Mexico City’s Zocalo is today. The dancers recreate ancient ceremonies and the Aztec Dance (La Danza Azteca), performing in traditional dresses using long feathered headdresses and leather skirts. Music is played on drums, flutes and rain sticks, and little bells on their ankles jingle while the dancers move. The dancers also perform spiritual rituals with incents and herbs to remove bad spirits from people in the audience, worshipping their ancestors and keeping the spirit of the Aztecs alive – a big spectacle for Mexicans and foreigners alike.

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: El Patio 77 in Mexico City

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‘Is this it?’ Dani asked to no one in particular.

Without much trouble at all, the cab driver located the corner building, number 77, on Icazbalceta Street in the San Rafael neighborhood of Mexico City, but the house looked like any other in this local neighborhood.

A man in skinny jean cutoffs and long sleeves leaning casually against the brick next to the giant iron doors offered to take our bags inside.

‘Um, is this it? Is this El Patio 77?’ we both asked again.

‘Yes, of course, I am not just a friendly stranger,’ said Diego, the co-owner, charming us with his French accent. Carrying our heavy packs, he led us in to the first of two gorgeous patios of this beautifully restored colonial mansion which he and partner Alan renovated and turned in to Mexico’s first-ever eco-friendly hotel.

el patio 77 mexico city B&BWithin a few minutes of chatting with Diego while our room was prepared, we already had plans to visit the nearby Museo Del Chopo art museum, had a map in our hands with a self-guided neighborhood walking tour of the area and we felt completely at home. We knew right away that this was exactly the intimate experience we were looking for during our stay in Mexico City, a metropolis of over 22 million people. The quiet bed and breakfast is set in an assuming working class neighborhood that is just three short stops on the metro from the buzzing hub of the Zocalo, or city center.

What we came to discover throughout our stay is that El Patio 77 is a sophisticated layering of Mexico’s past, present and future.

el patio 77 mexico city roomThe past is represented in the high ceilings, wooden floors and delicious antique furniture sparsely decorating the 19th century building. Our room, the Michoacán, has a simple yet comfortable queen bed, an armchair, a wardrobe and a simple table in the center. Two sliding glass doors open to faux, wrought iron balconies and floor to ceiling wooden shutters inside are thick enough to keep out all noise and light from the world outside. I enjoyed the butterflies on the light fixtures around the room that glow in the dark.  Named after states of Mexico, each room is similarly furnished, punctuated by a collection of modern Mexican art by emerging young artists also featured in their on-site art gallery – The 77.

el patio 77 mexico city artThe colorful art reflects a modern-day Mexico weaving past traditions and current culture, while the service of the hotel staff provided a type of tourism geared toward travel-savvy guests. We were informed, not spoon-fed generic experiences, and the focus was on the local surroundings. Rooms are provided with a thick binder with information, maps of local restaurants (try as many of them as you can for deliciously affordable and authentic Mexican fare) and tours, including the free, self-guided walking tour through San Rafael and the surrounding neighborhoods. On Sunday morning, we set off with our map and walked through the streets as the city woke up. We dodged joggers in the parks, passed several churches already in session and watched street food vendors setting up on street corners and in front of those churches, ready to feed the devout as they poured out after religious services. Although we spent two weeks here in 2010, this walk gave us the most personal glimpse of the city we had ever had.

From Diego and Alan, to the next in command, also named Diego, all the way to the friendly woman who makes breakfasts and cleans the rooms, the staff is knowledgeable, welcoming and made us feel entirely at home. The rooms are spotless, as are the shared bathrooms, which are also decorated with creative artistic touches. All but three suites share bathrooms, which for the higher room rates might be a bit unorthodox for some. However, I suspect that the well-traveled clientele that makes up the majority of guests have no problem with that. While it would be unfair to label it a hostel for grown-ups, El Patio 77 has the feeling of an avant-garde bed and breakfast for American and Europeans in their thirties who have done the round-the-world, grungy hostel thing in their twenties and are now looking for original, independent accommodation. Breakfast is served daily in one of two cozy covered patios, and includes fair-trade coffee, homemade jams, toast, fresh fruit and a traditional Mexican breakfast dish.

el patio 77 b&b mexico cityThe discreet, almost unseen layer here is the future-focused eco-friendly policies of this Mexico City B&B. Solar panels on the roof heat the water for the showers, while water recollection tanks collect the water to be filtered and re-used in toilets and to water plants. Guests are requested to use a special shampoo/body soap combo which is easier on the filters, but other than that, the eco-friendly aspects of the hotel are present but non-intrusive.

Stand Out Feature: The Staff

We must have emailed fifteen times with the staff between our initial inquiries and their follow-up emails asking us about our stay. They genuinely care about the quality of the experience and providing a place where travelers feel at home. We felt welcomed, yet were given plenty of privacy and space. Anytime we had a question, there was someone there to answer it, fully and with an interesting story behind it as well.

Room for improvement: Breakfast

For all the thoughtful touches in all other aspects of our stay, we felt that, as a Bed and Breakfast, the breakfast came up a bit short. Though the ingredients are fresh and high-quality, we would prefer to see two main dish options, either potatoes or beans on the side to round out the meal in addition to toast, and a carafe of water with two glasses on the table in addition to the freshly squeezed juice and fair-trade coffee.

el patio 77 breakfast plateOverall

El Patio 77 is perfect for travelers looking for a simple yet stylish hotel reflecting real life in Mexico City.

el patio 77 in mexico cityLocation: Icazbalceta 77, Colonia San Rafael C.P. 06470, Mexico D.F.
Price: Starting at US$70.30 + tax per night for 2 persons breakfast included
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly: Yes
Amenities: Free wi-fi, complimentary breakfast, patio and big lounge room on the ground floor
Website:
www.elpatio77.com

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Polaroid of the week: Beetle taxi in Mexico City

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polaroid of the week mexico city beetle taxi vochoMuch like London’s iconic double decker buses, the VW Beetle taxis are a symbol of Mexico City. Seen whizzing around the city non-stop, these VWs are soon going the way of their cousins around the world, as city officials have decided to retire all Beetle taxis by the end of this 2012.

This means we may have seen the last of these ‘vochos’ (Spanish for ‘bugs’ in Mexico) during our recent stop there this month.  At the height of their popularity, there were 50,000 Beetle taxis cruising around town, but numbers have been dwindling since their production in Mexico finally ended in 2003.  In addition to being tiny, these two-door cabs are said to be less safe than four-door taxis and no longer meet emission standards. This major contribution to Mexico City’s already high levels of air pollution was the major factor in the city’s decision to squash these bugs.

So, if you’d like to go for an adventurous ride in one of these old, rattling vochos, you have to act quickly and head to Mexico City before 2012 ends.

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Why you need to see Mexico…now

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Surrealist painter Salvador Dali said he couldn’t live in Mexico because it was too surreal for him – a piece of information sure to stir up intrigue in anyone familiar with the artist’s work. But what made him say this? And why should you visit the very place this mind-bending artist couldn’t handle? Read on to find out why a holiday to Mexico could make you glad of the persistence of memory…

Mexico City Street ArtMexico’s weird and wonderful landscapes are one thing you are unlikely to forget once you’ve seen them, and the country’s views could well have inspired Dali’s ‘surreal’ label, with breath-taking mountain ranges, sprawling desserts and tropical rainforests all vying for attention. In fact, the second-largest remaining tropical rainforest in the Americas stretches through Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and is home to equally enthralling creatures such as the white-lipped peccary, the tapir, the scarlet macaw, the harpy eagle and the howler monkey. Also, The Nature Conservancy reports that five large cat species live in the lush greenery there.

Tulum ruins But let’s take a step back and look at Mexico’s position on the map, and what this means for the holidaymaker. This stunning country is bordered by the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the US and Guatemala. While the majority of the Mexican northern and central territories are located at high altitudes, the yearly temperature average doesn’t normally fall below 20 °C, but does reach up to 28°C. In other words, Mexico is nestled in surroundings that make it a diverse and interesting landscape and it enjoys lovely weather that is not unbearably hot.

For those who want a holiday full of fantastic sights and activities, Mexico is perfect. Tourists can go diving to explore part of the world’s second largest coral reef at the Parque Marino Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel, or snorkel with whale sharks in Cancun. History buffs can enjoy the city’s rich selection of museums or visit the ancient empire of the pre-Hispanic Aztec capital – the ruins of which were found under the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral – and see two religious temples, pyramids, serpent carvings, and shrines.

Palenque ruinsIf you want to laze around on a stunning sun-kissed beach, Mexico can deliver the perfect backdrop to your holiday snaps with its 450 different beaches.

Food in Mexico is a vibrant melting pot of different influences from South America, the Caribbean and Africa, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its own clear identity too. Dishes based on corn and vibrant, spicy foods with tongue-tingling chilli flavours are available in abundance in Mexico, and a new and exciting food experience is always around the corner if you’re prepared to be adventurous!

Mexican Street FoodWithout wishing to argue with one the most famous artists of all time, thanks to it’s beautiful landscape, exciting and colourful food offerings and amazing history, perhaps there’s a better word to describe Mexico.

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