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Breaking my radio silence after a trip to Europe!

This restaurant promo in Madrid brought me fond memories of two of my favorite homes-- 1) it's named Nebraska, a concept obviously recognized worldwide as an elite and glamorous, and 2) there is a photo of a scary-looking piece of meat, very Mexico-esque.

This restaurant promo in Madrid brought me fond memories of two of my favorite homes-- 1) it's named Nebraska, a concept obviously recognized worldwide as elite and glamorous, and 2) there is a photo of a scary-looking piece of meat, very Mexico-esque.

Crap! I think this is a new land-speed-record for Length of Time I’ve Gone Without a Riveting Blog Post! I am sure many of you have been sobbing into your chilaquiles as you have rigorously checked this page each morning only to be rewarded with OLD POSTS YOU’VE ALREADY READ (or didn’t care about in the first place). :) Luckily, I have a partially valid excuse, although I sense it being unlikely to stir sympathy…

In Madrid, we stopped at "Meson del Champignones" upon recommendation of John's coworker, and it was a wild success. I was initially skeptical of the mushrooms, but funnily enough, anything cooked in enough butter with some serrano ham on top is pretty tasty.

In Madrid, we stopped at "Meson del Champignones" upon recommendation of John's coworker, and it was a wild success. I was initially skeptical of the mushrooms, but funnily enough, anything cooked in enough butter with some serrano ham on top is pretty tasty.

We just returned from a 2-week trip to Europe, prompted by the occasion of a good friend’s wedding in Scotland. So as to maximize the value from the cost of a flight to Europe, we decided to first spend a week in Spain under the guise of “Now we can speak the language there!” As my classmates might have said during elementary school, “Shyeah, right!” Not so fast. We still aren’t sure what threw off the Madrileños more– the fact that two tall German/Swedish-looking people were speaking Spanish at all, or the fact that the Spanish they were speaking was Mexico-twinged. Let’s just say- we experienced a lot of cringing Spanish faces, but in the end, still managed to execute food/drink orders effectively.

Credit goes to friends Lesley & Heera for the dual recommendations of sandwich mixtos and Museo del Jamon. These luscious little puppies were merely 1 Euro a pop; I could have eaten seven.

Credit goes to friends Lesley & Heera for the dual recommendations of sandwich mixtos and Museo del Jamon. These luscious little puppies were merely 1 Euro a pop; I could have eaten seven.

Spain was lovely– we quickly adjusted to its late-nite dining scheme, which we interpreted as +/- 6 hours each evening spent wandering from bar to bar, drinking wine/beer/sherry/cider while nibbling from wee piles of magical serrano ham/marinated olives/manchego cheese/crusty bread. While that may not sound like a heathy diet, we found it almost impossible to overeat to the level we are used to while dining out in Mexico (though that may have been due more to the constant, painful euro-to-dollar calculations going on in our heads…). 😉

OK, so our hotel in Sevilla had a small kitchenette stocked with this MASSIVE roll of paper towels that looked just like TP. This photo of John pretending to run into the bathroom with the biggest roll of toilet paper known to man was hilarious, but also foreshadowed the food poisoning I would get 2 days later in Toledo from eating a tasty venison sandwich. Then for the next week, this picture felt all too real...

OK, so our hotel in Sevilla had a small kitchenette stocked with this MASSIVE roll of paper towels that looked just like TP. This photo of John pretending to run into the bathroom with the biggest roll of toilet paper known to man was hilarious, but also foreshadowed the food poisoning I would get 2 days later in Toledo from eating a tasty venison sandwich. Then for the next week, this picture felt all too real...

A shot of the sweet bridge leading into the walled city of Toledo

A shot of the sweet bridge leading into the walled city of Toledo

We zipped via high-speed train from Madrid to Sevilla, Toledo & back and were well entertained by all 3 cities. Toledo was especially fascinating to John (military buff) as a walled city on a river that was never taken by force. Then it was off to Glasgow for a night of reminiscing in our favorite neighborhood where we spent a week before our own wedding a mere 17 months ago.

Here I am with Emily, the blushing bride, and a hearty pint of lager.

Here I am with Emily, the blushing bride, and a hearty pint of lager.

The next day, John skillfully maneuvered our rental Prius along the left side of the road to the lovely Balbirnie House in Glenrothes for the wedding of the beautiful Emily & dapper Richard. This was followed by a clay piegon shoot in the countryside the next afternoon, where I started off in a burst of glory (first time shooter, 6 of 6, folks!) and then quickly flamed out under pressure. Many evil pigeons came away unscathed under my watch.

Here I am with Emma while we're stopped for lunch at Torr Head along the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland

Here I am with Emma while we're stopped for lunch at Torr Head along the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland

We were continually horrified to see swill like Coors Light and Budweiser being sold alongside the likes of Guinness on Guinness's home turf

We were continually horrified to see swill like Coors Light and Budweiser being sold alongside the likes of Guinness on Guinness's home turf

One of the murals in Belfast painted during The Troubles-- the gun is said to follow you wherever you go in this housing comlex.

One of the murals in Belfast painted during The Troubles-- the gun is said to follow you wherever you go in this housing comlex.

One more night in Glasgow and we were off to Dublin (after getting screwed for £30 being forced to check our carefully-packed carry-on suitcases on Aer Lingus). Friend Emma kindly picked us up at the airport & whisked us off to Newgrange, a fascinating passage tomb built several hundred years before the pyramids in Egypt. Then we did a 2-day tour of Northern Ireland– beautiful scenery & FASCINATING/crazy history. I think everyone’s at least heard of the IRA & the violent history in Belfast/Derry/environs, but to see the on-the-ground impact of “The Troubles” still today was really enlightening. The up-to-25-feet-high “Peace Lines” running between the Catholic/Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast are a constant reminder.

In Derry, we saw the subtly-marked Protestant neighborhood...

In Derry, we saw the subtly-marked Protestant neighborhood...

Derry was our last stop in Northern Ireland, which still uses the pound, before returning to Ireland, which uses the euro. Here we are at Peader O'Donnell's in Derry, excitedly finding enough small change to buy us one more round of beers.

Derry was our last stop in Northern Ireland, which still uses the pound, before returning to Ireland, which uses the euro. Here we are at Peader O'Donnell's in Derry, excitedly finding enough small change to buy us one more round of beers.

Just as we were prepared to leave for the nite due to insufficient funds for 3 pints, Emma befriended local pal "Chris" who promptly bought us all another pint. He also forced John & I to do a whisky shot in a glass the size of a coffee mug while Emma was in the loo. I can neither confirm nor deny hearing Emma & Chris exchange "I love yous" when Chris finally decided to depart for the evening.

Just as we were prepared to leave for the nite due to insufficient funds for 3 pints, Emma befriended local pal "Chris" who promptly bought us all another pint. He also forced John & I to do a whisky shot in a glass the size of a coffee mug while Emma was in the loo. I can neither confirm nor deny hearing Emma & Chris exchange "I love yous" when Chris finally decided to depart for the evening.

Emma narrowly beats me to finish her Guinness at the Gravity Bar atop the Guinness brewery.

Emma narrowly beats me to finish her Guinness at the Gravity Bar atop the Guinness brewery.

Of course, we wrapped things up in Dublin with the obligatory Guinness brewery tour. Verdict? Good, but even better when your friend’s friend’s brother works there & you don’t have to pay €15 euros to get in. 😉 (Thanks again Alan!!)

Obligatory Guinness logo photo: check.

Obligatory Guinness logo photo: check.

Here we are out in Dublin with Emma's BFF Tricia on the left. A random girl kindly agreed to take our pic, but that resulted in her chest-hair-heavy pal joining us for the kodak-moment...

Here we are out in Dublin with Emma's BFF Tricia on the left. A random girl kindly agreed to take our pic, but that resulted in her chest-hair-heavy pal joining us for the kodak-moment...

Anyway, I’ll now fall back on my traditional “in a frenzy of preparation for MBA classes + final exam this weekend” excuse, and promise to try & kick things back into high-Mexico-gear shortly!! Thanks to all for your patience, and will try to add a few more photo highlights shortly!

Mexico City Cantina Crawl Report

As a follow up to my previous post regarding the map of cantinas in the Centro Historico, I am delinquent on an report on our Cantina Crawl findings! Good times were had by all, and we managed to hit 4 cantinas prior to walking over to Plaza Garibaldi, hub of mariachi action. I wasn’t sure how busy the Centro Historico would be on a Saturday night, but there were plenty of folks walking around & we didn’t feel any more conspicuous than a group of 16 gringos + latinos normally would. :)  Since several of the cantinas close a little on the early side, we started our activities around 8PM. I think it might be even better to do the crawl during a Saturday afternoon to perhaps maximize the # of local patrons + chances for free snacks.

Stop 1: La Mascota. Definitely would recommend this spot. Plenty of tables, a good crowd, a two-piece band playing hits of the 80’s, a jukebox, attentive waiters, free food (aka botanas). If it’s good enough for Anthony Bourdain & David Lida, it’s good enough for us.

At La Mascota I introduced Susan to one of my favorite drinks, the bandera-- a trifecta of tequila, sangrita, and lime juice.

At La Mascota I introduced Susan to one of my favorite drinks, the bandera-- a trifecta of tequila, sangrita, and lime juice.

No one was exactly certain what was in this drink called "Hierbabuena" (recommended to Ben by our waiter). It was mint-licious, but gave his belly a good coating of cream that was not the best way to start a night of drinking...

No one was exactly certain what was in this drink called "Hierbabuena" (recommended to Ben by our waiter). It was mint-licious, but gave his belly a good coating of cream that was not the best way to start a night of drinking...

 

We even secured some free botanas! (gorditas de frijol with a tasty salsa verde on the side)

We secured some free botanas! (gorditas de frijol with a tasty salsa verde on the side)

Stop 2: Bar Mancera: wouldn’t necessarily rush to this spot…given that we were the only people here outside of two older ladies working the bar + a random cat. The architecture was cool, the paintings were fascinating/disturbing, and the drinks were cheap, but I think our large group slightly terrified the 2 employees, who seemed perfectly content to sit and chat without concern over their lack of customers. :) Perhaps it sees more traffic during the day??

 

One of Bar Mancera's helpful servers pouring tequila while in a slight panic stemming from multiple, simultaneous orders.

One of Bar Mancera's helpful servers pouring tequila while in a slight panic stemming from multiple, simultaneous orders.

 

The elaborate bar at Mancera

The elaborate bar at Mancera

So...this painting was on the wall in Bar Mancera....I'm not exactly sure what is being depicted here, but it seems a little sketchy...

So...this painting was on the wall in Bar Mancera....I'm not exactly sure what is being depicted here, but it seems a little sketchy...

Stop 3: La Puerta del Sol. I might rank this as “not a hot spot but friendly service & cool seating”. I am a sucker for half-moon booths. :) Additionally, it was a high point for me personally as I had my first photo opp in a cantina with swinging doors. I felt like a might have been in a Western/Mexican historical movie, (except for the fact that I was a woman in a cantina for a reason other than prostitution).

Yes!! Thank you swinging cantina doors! I am almost a movie star

Yes!! Thank you swinging cantina doors! I am almost a movie star

The bar at La Puerta del Sol, filled with bargain-priced Negro Modelos galore

The bar at La Puerta del Sol, filled with bargain-priced Negro Modelos galore

The sweet booths at Puerta del Sol, plus the slightly-odd open kitchen with pots-o-mystery-meats

The sweet booths at Puerta del Sol, plus the slightly-odd open kitchen with pots-o-mystery-meats

Stop 4: Salon Corona. As it turns out, there are actually two Salon Coronas. We first went to the one marked on my map at Bolivar 24, el original. This little hole in the wall was *packed*, much to the chagrin of our large group! However, an attentive employee informed us of Salon Corona II and personally escorted us over there to a table set for 16. Salon Corona II (at Filomeno Mata 18) is a 2-floor establlishment with a patio & was also pretty busy, but didn’t have quite the same über-bustling feel as the original. However, they did have sweet-ass beer mugs, cheap cerveza, and magical tacos al pastor.  A fine choice for a “We’re out for a night of drinking BUT we should probably eat something at some point” stop.

The outdoor seating at Salon Corona II... see and be seen!

The outdoor seating at Salon Corona II... see and be seen!

Very tempted to liberate one of these mugs from the bar, but it would have violated my cardinal rule of Beer Glassware: don't steal mugs from places you intend to come back to.

Very tempted to liberate one of these mugs from the bar, but it would have violated my cardinal rule of Beer Glassware: don't steal mugs from places you intend to come back to.

Final stop: Plaza Garibaldi. A must-do! We walked to Garibaldi via Lazaro Cardenas, which is the main drag lined with mariachis decked out in their suits, chasing down cars that drive by (end goal: to get their band hired for a gig that Saturday nite). I’m not going to lie– seeing grown men in tight pants chase after cars makes the trek at least semi-worthwhile before you’ve even *gotten* to the plaza.

Now as I’ve explained to others, Plaza Garibaldi is not the best place for people who are looking to “see it” and get on their way. There is no official performance or specific must-see/must-do there. It is much more of a “go, stand around, buy a $25 peso chelada (beer), do some people-watching, negotiate with a few mariachi bands, sing along to a few songs, and eat a tamale purchased from an elderly woman sitting on a step” kind of place. If you are lucky, you will find a carnival game set up on the sidelines where you will have the opportunity to win fabulous cash and prizes. And by “fabulous cash and prizes”, I mean garish ceramic animal-shaped banks worth <$1 USD.

Also, be aware that Plaza Garibaldi is under construction at present, as the Mexico City government actively works to spruce it up a tick to make it look a bit more welcoming in the light of day. Do not be dissuaded by the ample chain-link fences because remember: you are not going so you can see a thing. You are going so you can experience the culture. A culture of men in tight pants and manly hats.

The first mariachi band that we hired may or may not have been sleepwalking.

The first mariachi band that we hired may or may not have been sleepwalking.

Someone proposed that perhaps I had hired the shortest mariachi band possible in order to make myself feel taller. (God knows that is a constant quest of mine...) ;)

Someone proposed that perhaps I had hired the shortest mariachi band possible in order to make myself feel taller. (God knows that is a constant quest of mine...) ;)

 

We later found a superior mariachi band who was both awake AND had trumpets (*key* to any successful mariachi band). Segio had an instant bond with the lead singer & promptly initiated a sing-off.

We later found a superior mariachi band who was both awake AND had trumpets (*key* to any successful mariachi band). Sergio had an instant bond with the lead singer & promptly initiated a sing-off.

We were excited to spot 1/2 of the band Duran Duran hanging out in Plaza Garibaldi. They have fallen on tough times.

We were excited to spot 1/2 of the band Duran Duran hanging out in Plaza Garibaldi. They have fallen on tough times.

We all tried our hand at the balloon dart toss. All the men failed to puncture 3 balloons with as many darts. The balloons tried to take their revenge on Sergio by eating half of his face.

We all tried our hand at the balloon dart toss. All the men failed to puncture 3 balloons with as many darts. The balloons tried to take their revenge on Sergio by eating half of his face.

I was careful to ensure that all 3 darts actually had sharp tips. (savvy dart player, this one)

I was careful to ensure that all 3 darts actually had sharp tips. (savvy dart player, this one)

Yes!! I hit all three balloons, but then a giant earthquake emerged and almost swallowed me up in a crevasse!! Or that's what this photo was meant to depict, had you actually been able to see the crevasse. Damn.

Yes!! I hit all three balloons, but then a giant earthquake emerged and almost swallowed me up in a crevasse!! Or that's what this photo was meant to depict, had you actually been able to see the crevasse. Damn.

And finally, here is John drinking a chelada while wearing his new birthday hat that Luis kindly purchased for him. I was excited about it until we got the hat home, where John proceeded to wear it the entirety of the next day in our apartment while shouting out demands at me in a southern accent and making shooting noises/gestures with his fingers. The term "varmint" can indeed be overused.

And finally, here is John drinking a chelada while wearing his new birthday hat that Luis kindly purchased for him. I was excited about it until we got the hat home, where John proceeded to wear it the entirety of the next day in our apartment while shouting out demands at me in a southern accent and making shooting noises/gun gestures with his fingers. The term "varmint" can indeed be overused.

In summary, I would say that while there are a couple minor errors on my cantina map (most notably, El Nivel is closed), if you wander around those general streets, you are sure to find something to keep you entertained! Have fun & please report back with any new cantina discoveries to add to my list for the future!!

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