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Dia de los Muertos: homemade sugar skulls & an ofrenda for Marcia

One of the marigold-heavy ofrendas on display in Mexico City

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) was always one of my favorite holidays during my time living in Mexico. The elaborate, colorful ofrendas (altars)… the well-dressed Catrina statues the tasty pan de muertothe fascinating traditions at the cemetaries… It was so interesting to spend two years in a culture that not only felt comfortable talking about death, but actually celebrated it.  I shared several photos from one year’s festivities around Mexico City in this post, and I’ve definitely missed all the rituals the last two years back here in the US.

My mom humoring me by eating at a taco street vendor in our hometown back in Sept 2009. :)

But this year’s Dia de los Muertos holds even more meaning for me than any I experienced in Mexico.  It falls on November 2nd, just two days before the anniversary of my mom’s death last year.  She passed away on a chilly fall day in Grand Island, Nebraska after a year and a half of battling lung cancer. We often joked together that she would have lived a more devil-may-care lifestyle if she’d known that was coming; a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis after never even having smoked a cigarette seemed a bit crap.

I’ve been thinking for a while about what to do in her honor as the calendar creeps up on one whole year that she’s been gone. One of my friends does an extravagant, multi-course dinner every year in the theme of her home state to honor the memory of the restaurant owner who taught her the key tenets of Midwestern cooking– dairy, meat, and booze. I love that idea, but I wasn’t sure I’d make it through a reprise of the last meal Mom & I cooked together without getting a little weepsy this year.

Visiting the Dia de los Muertos displays in Coyoacan with my mom in October 2009.

Luckily, the traditions surrounding Dia de los Muertos offered the perfect solution, along with perfect timing. In fact, Marcia’s last trip abroad was to visit us in DF during October 2009, so she got to see all of the ceremony firsthand & loved it! I decided to assemble my own ofrenda to celebrate her, led by my friend Lesley’s great how-to guide.  I was buoyed by discovering that friend Ross had a whole garden full of marigolds to share, the flower always seen adorning altars in Mexico.  And we already had the iconic Catrina and Catrin statues, purchased with my Mom’s guidance at the Coyoacan DDLM market.

Tracking down calaveras de azucar proved to be a challenge in the DC area, but I came across an extensive website — www.mexicansugarskull.com — where I was able to buy all the accoutrements to make my own sugar skulls at home. I was slightly afraid this would turn into an arts-and-crafts disaster, but Angela’s site did a pretty good sales job, claiming “even second graders” can do it. :)  And finally, I was able to special-order orange blossom water (a common pan de muerto ingredient) from the Italian Store in my neighborhood for a mere $2.99.

Making the Sugar Skulls

Early last week I started work on the long pole in the tent: the sugar skulls. I started with a five-pounds-of-sugar test run, carefully heeding the dire warnings on the website (Don’t make them on a rainy day! Sugar hates humidity! Don’t use crappy meringue powder!). I opted for the “Oaxacan Medium Skull” mold from the various options available, which I liked because it was very 3-D (you make the front & back and then adhere them together with frosting) but wasn’t so big that you have to scoop out the insides to get it to dry properly. The process was surprisingly quick– just mash sugar into the plastic mold, scrape off the back with a flat edge, and flip it onto a piece of cardboard.

Halfway through my five pounds of sugar skull-making run! The mixture of sugar, meringue powder & water should feel like beach sand.

They’re supposed to dry for 12 hours. Because I’m anal, I gave the 14 skulls a few days to relax on a card table set up in our living room.  But during that time, I accidentally knocked one skull-half onto the ground, and amazingly it did not break! After that litmus test, I felt confident enough to email a few friends to see if they might be interested in joining me to decorate the skulls. I still hedged my bets, though, promising a big batch of chili to eat in case this project was an unmitigated disaster. :)

On Friday night, I made another five pounds worth of skulls, even though it had rained during the day and weather.com claimed 97% humidity at 9AM. I flipped our A/C on in the morning, and the skulls turned out fine. I whipped up a couple batches of royal icing around noon on Sunday, and began assembling the skull halves together– this was probably the most tedious part of the process. Their royal icing recipe dries crazy-fast, so at least there were no worries with things slipping around.

Rows of assembled sugar skulls, awaiting their time in the makeup chair...

Bright and festive icing, all ready to decorate some skulls!

That evening, a few folks came over and we dined on a new chili recipe John had tested out (verdict: tasty but futzy, as I guess one should expect when one is making one’s own chili powder & tripling a recipe). Then, we plopped the piles of neon royal icing I’d made into the icing bags, complete with zip ties.

Jenny and I awkwardly fill up the fancy icing bags. Normally I am a big proponent of ziplocs or baggies for dispensing frosting, but I have to say, these things were worth the $4 I spent.

We gathered everyone around the table with their blank skulls, and set to work!

Silence fell over the room as everyone focused intently on their designs...

We found that Leah's pecan pie helped provide the energy needed for this project... Also note the piles of colorful foil & sequins/confetti at the ready, and toothpicks came in handy as well.

For a group consisting largely of engineers, diplomats, architects, and lawyers, I was quite impressed with the level of creativity displayed in the end results:

A lovely array of calaveras courtesy our artistic friends! Marcia's is in the middle of the front row-- often Mexicans inscribe the name of the deceased on the skull's forehead.

We sent most of the skulls home with their creators, but a few stayed behind to grace our ofrenda. Mexicans believe that the souls of the dead come back & visit their loved ones during Dia de los Muertos, so the ofrenda is the offering to the deceased. The skulls joined a few photos of Marcia, candles (to help light the way for the spirits), a good bottle of red wine (things the person liked to eat/drink), a glass of water and a pile of salt (to quench the thirst of souls after their long trip back), pan de muerto (for nourishment), marigolds (which represent the passing nature of life), her Golden Bear necklace (favorite items the person liked to wear), and a Swedish dala horse in honor of her Swedish heritage. Lots of these items also symbolize the four elements of nature- wind, water, earth and fire, like the breezy papel picados that represent the wind.

UPDATE— I came across one DDLM-related saying today after I posted this that I’d not heard before but really liked. “Ya que el camino de regreso al mundo de los vivos no debe ser resbaladizo por las lágrimas.”  Translated, “The path back to the world of the living must not be made slippery by tears.” Great summary of the Mexican attitude towards celebrating the lives of those who have gone before us, rather than focusing on our sadness.

Our first ofrenda! My mom also helped me pick out the papel picados on the wall during our trip to Mercardo Jamaica in DF a few years back. I am amazed they are still (mostly) in one piece!

And a candlelit ofrenda view, including the pan de muerto I'd made the night before.

I had made vastly more sugar skulls then we ended up decorating (apparently not everyone has my perfectionist tendencies of needing multiple tries to hone my skull-decorating skills), so I whipped out a couple more after everyone left. One for my Grandma Arline, and one for John’s Uncle Brian.

The other family sugar skulls I made.

I debated for a while as to whether dogs deserved their own sugar skulls, but ultimately decided I had to draw the line somewhere. If our old beagle Roscoe and terrier Dave each got one, then what about Sophie the guinea pig? Or those fish we had for a while? The barn cats out at Grandma Dorothy’s farm?  There are limits, people.

As we cleaned up after the festivities on Sunday night, I gave John a big hug. “Thanks for being so supportive and not making me feel like a crazy person for wanting to do all of this,” I told him. “It’s just the kind of thing Marcia would have liked,” he replied, “Frenzied house-cleaning before having company over, friends, laughter, good food, red wine, and a project!” :)

It’s going to be a tough November 4th this year for me, my dad, and my brother, as well as for lots of her close friends & family. I just hope she knows how much we all miss her.

The Carmanns, all dressed up with somewhere to go. :)

Love you, Mom

Condesa & Roma: the trendy neighborhoods of Mexico City

Please check out my latest article up on the Mexico Today website– http://mexicotoday.org/article/condesa-roma-trendy-neighborhoods-mexico-city!  This month I’m recounting some of the highlights of our favorite colonias in DF– Condesa and Roma, located just east of Chapultepec Park.

Some of the hyperlinks to the businesses I mentioned didn’t come through on the Mexico Today page, so I’m including them here for your convenience. Take a look at the article for additional commentary on each!




More Mexico Today Updates!

In other news, here are some of the great articles my fellow MT folks wrote this past month for your leisure reading:

https://www.facebook.com/Gastrofonda https://www.facebook.com/Gastrofonda

Back to Mexico City!!

This past year has been a struggle for me & John to readjust from the “every other weekend = a 3-day+ vacation to a beach, jungle, colonial town or archaeological site” schedule that we got accustomed to living in Mexico City. :) (Yes, I can almost feel your waves of sympathy washing over me.)   So after a long, challenging, nearly-vacation-free 2011, we made last minute plans to zip down to Mexico City today (Friday Jan 6th).  We debated going somewhere new & unknown to us, but for this particular trip, the comfortable & familiar won out. Consider it a greatest hits tour….just 15 months after the original tour.

Planning has been pretty light thus far… all we’ve really accomplished is starting a list of places we need to eat…. So far we have:

Point being– we are super excited to eat & wander through all the fun neighborhoods, mercados, etc. & track down some friends while we’re there.  More photos to follow of anything else new we discover while there. My current fascination is this— Bamboocycle, a company that makes bicycles out of bamboo. Love it!

Is it wrong to just want to replicate this photo again in person? Love ya, tacos al pastor (& even the sullen taquero).

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in DF

We found celebrating the Año Nuevo in Mexico City to be a bit different than our prior U.S.-based New Year’s Eve festivities.  In the U.S., pressure always feels high among the 20/30-something crowd to have THE MOST AMAZING NIGHT OUT of your life.  This usually involves spending 2x what you would normally spend on dinner at a restaurant whose food will be 1/2 as good as normal, and then spending the subsequent hours trying to purchase drinks from a bar packed with dozens of sweaty, overdressed strangers. :)

Most of the folks we knew in DF took the opposite approach: they spent New Year’s Eve at home with their families, where food & drink are plentiful, cheap, and readily-accessible!  But this begs the question, if NYE is not the crazed event that it is in the US, what is there to do in Mexico City for the non-chilango crowd?  Here are a few options to consider…

  • You can still go out for an overly-expensive, fancy New Year’s Eve dinner!

Lucky for you, there are still plenty of folks who will be out celebrating. As per Ruth’s post, Jaso & Piazza Navona will both be open on Dec 31.  Open Table may also serve as a useful starting point to determine which restaurants are serving dinner, as does this article on Chilango.com highlighting places that are doing fancy fixed-price options.

  • Learn & take part in traditional Mexican New Year’s traditions!

Cristina has a great summary of some favorite traditions within Mexico.  I found the “eating of the 12 grapes at midnight” the easiest to emulate. Make a wish for each grape you pop into your mouth!

You too can be the recipient of tired grapes from a bar in Mexico City @ midnight!

But I also quite enjoyed the lucky underwear– go to any Mexican mercado during the month of December, and you’ll find reams of red & yelow undies for sale.  Wearing red underwear increases your odds of finding the love of your life during the upcoming year, and yellow underwear is said to bring money.

We found this lucky-undie array at the mercado in Morelia, Michoacan shortly before New Year's Eve.

A quick non-NYE-related sidenote: I think when we saw our first red/yellow underwear display in Morelia back in 2008 (our first holiday season in Mexico), we didn’t understand the significance… But you know what we DID understand the significance of?  This hilarious display of other novelty underwear next-door to the NYE underwear:

These 20-peso novelty undies have provided an ROI of about 1000% in terms of amusement derived. We have given these as inappropriate gifts to more people (and laughed more at their expense) than we had ever hoped. Hindsight being 20/20, I would buy another 30 of these if I could.

  • Go to one of the trendy bars in Mexico City that you can’t get into on a normal weekend!

When we had trendy-club-goers visiting us from the US in Dec 2009, we were worried about telling them that “sitting at home together” was the preferred activity for NYE.  So, we decided to go out in Condesa to the strip of bars that is usually too much of a mob scene for us to bother going to on a normal Saturday night. :)

Pata Negra, here we come. (Address: Tamaulipas 30 at the corner of Juan Escutia)

We started out with a beverage at the King’s Pub, and then spent most of the evening at Pata Negra followed by Zydeco.  We were a little too early for much excitement @ King’s Pub, but I did score some sweet glasses there:

Yes! Feliz Año Nuevo indeed!

The best part about being at Pata Negra for the New Year’s Eve midnight countdown was: NYE is such a non-event that the 4 of us personally started the countdown in English based on the time shown on John’s watch. :)  But they did come through with glasses of grapes shown above! In general, the bars along Tamaulipas (normally quite busy) were pleasantly full but not heaving, which was perfect for us.

What are you folks doing for New Year’s Eve this year?? Will you be incorporating any Mexican traditions in your celebrations? :)

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Our First Christmas Posada in Mexico City

One of the many Mexican Christmas traditions I’m missing while back in the US this year is the posada. The season of posadas began on Friday, December 16th– nine days before Christmas.  When we lived in Mexico City, this marked both a time of holiday joy & grinchy anger, because of the sharp uptick in traffic (even worse than normal!).  My friends told me the reason traffic got SOOOO bad was due to all the chilangos driving to posadas after work each night, as well as shopping for last-minute Christmas presents. :) Unfortunately my social calendar never had nine days of parties in a row, but I did get to experience at least one authentic posada thanks to my MBA classmates!

We arrived at Grace & Lalo’s house to discover a well-dressed dog, which I took as a sign that this would be a successful night:

Santa dog = key ingredient for any posada. :)

They had their own outdoor patio heater, which was both awesomely warm & perfect for lighting sparklers on:

It's all fun & games until someone loses an eye, David.

And most impressively, they were even prepared with posada instructional booklets!

All the official posada wording you could ask for

These were important, because a key part of the posada is reliving Mary & Joseph’s experience trying to find shelter in Bethlehem. You set up half the party attendees outside pretending to be a very pregnant Mary & tired Joseph, and the other half stays inside telling M&J to go away & not bother them. FINALLY Joseph explains how he has the mother of our savior with him & then the jerks inside are like “Oh! Our bad! We didn’t know! In that case, come on in!”

The text for the exchange between Joseph/Mary + the meanie lodging folks. It almost feels like that experience you had at the Motel 6 outside of Albany when you showed up at 2AM without a reservation.

Once Mary & Joseph are let inside the house, then the party gets started with some singing, a good old fashioned piñata, food and drink.  I was pleased to see that much like the Lutheran church, no celebration is complete without the opportunity to burn you & those around you with small candles while singing:

Ceci makes the rounds with candles surrounded by their protective, holiday-themed mini-muffin wax drip guards

Alonso pauses to marvel at the flame of light burning so close to his fingers.

The celebratory singing begins!

Finally, the time for the piñata arrived. I took endless pleasure in watching the careful, laborious piñata set up.  I will confess to the fact that my motto of life in Mexico (“What could go wrong?”) flashed through my mind more than once… 😉

Things began with the transfer of the metal ladder over the electric fence. It was never clear to me whether it was truly on or off, which just made the process all the more exciting. :)

The other side of the piñata was secured to this ladder across the street.

To get a full visual of the piñata setup as well as hear a preview of the piñata-smashing theme song, you can check out this incredibly-dark video shot right before the first piñata contender made their way up to the plate:

Luckily the street that the piñata was strung across was not very busy... :)

Finally, it was my turn!!

Grace carefully instructs me in the ways of piñata-beating, while I am blindfolded with an artsy blue scarf.

I think I may have knocked loose one of the piñata's wings, which I promptly claimed for myself as a victory hat.

After the piñata excitement died down, we headed back to Grace’s deck and continued eating & drinking. The fan-favorite drink at any posada is ponche. It’s kind of the Mexican version of hot apple cider here in the US, but better (added alcohol optional but recommended). Check out some excellent recipes courtesy Maura, Silvia, and Lesley.

Good ponche, good people, good times. :)

It looks like we may miss the boat on hosting a posada this year here in Arlington, VA, but hope springs eternal for next year. Though I really need to work on mastering the lyrics to the piñata song.

Is anyone out there holding their own posada this week??  Would anyone like to bring over some tamales & ponche and we can have a quick posada, just the two of us? :)  In the interim, here’s to all my GMBA classmates who made our first & only posada so much fun! Check out more posada blog posts below…

Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

What’s happening this December in Mexico City?

December in Mexico City is jam-packed with opportunities for celebration, highlighted by the Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe on Dec 12, posadas, office parties, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, just to name a few.  I found during our time in DF that the Mexico City goverment (a.k.a. “GDF”– Gobierno del Distrito Federal) really gets into things around the holiday season. 2009 brought a new Guinness record for the World’s Largest Christmas Tree, followed quickly by the World’s Largest Rosca de Reyes.  What could possibly be on tap for December 2011, you may be wondering??

The record-breaking Christmas tree I saw in Mexico City in 2009 was definitely not a natural fir.

Well, the GDF just announced some of their plans for this year’s Christmas/New Year events.  I was curious how the general economic climate might affect things, but this hilarious sentence from the article in El Universal put my fears at ease: “Los festejos de Navidad y Año Nuevo en el último periodo de la administración de Marcelo Ebrard en la Ciudad de México serán más austeros y con menos atractivos espectaculares que las temporadas anteriores, excepto por el posible concierto de la estrella pop Britney Spears en el Ángel de la Independencia.”

Rough translation?  “The Christmas/New Year’s festivities in the last perod of the Ebrard administration in Mexico City will be more austere and have fewer spectacular attractions than previous seasons… except for the possible Britney Spears concert at the Angel of Independence.”  What??  While I’m not certain whether bringing in a washed-up-but-surely-still-high-dollar American pop star says to me “we are keeping a close eye on the budget,” I appreciate their enthusiasm nonetheless!  :)

You’ll obviously want to monitor for Britney confirmation (they are trying for concerts on Dec 1, 3 & 6, and we’ll know next week whether negotiations have been a success), but here’s what you should mark your calendars for in the interim.

Christmas Events in Mexico City 2011

  • Ice Skating in the Zocalo!  December 4th will be the first day that the 2400 square meter ice rink will be open in the Centro Historico.  Check out the photos of its construction.  The ice rink should be open through January 7, 2012.
  • 50-meter-tall Christmas Tree!  Alas, they won’t be trying for a new world record this time, but there will still be a sizeable tree to view in the Zocalo. You’ll be able to see it from the pedestrianized street, Francisco I. Madero.
  • December 4th Parade!  At 6PM, lit-up floats carrying athletes that competed in the Panamerican Games will depart from the Diana statue on Reforma & head towards the Zocalo.
  • **UPDATE–December 4th! Britney Spears free concert is confirmed!! It will be at 7PM @ the Monument to the Revolution.
  • Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe on December 12th!  Now this is not a GDF-sponsored event, but rather an annual pilgrimage to the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City made by tens of thousands of people.  To be honest, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going on the actual feast day due to the crazy crowds… but if you want to experience a massive cultural event that happens all over Mexico & see its source, this is the place to be. I posted some logistical instructions here for how to get to the Basilica– scroll down about halfway through that post.
  • More Glamorous December 18th Parade that includes a FAKE SNOWSTORM!  This parade will start at La Morena and go up Eje Central Lazaro Cardenas. I believe it will cut right and end at street 20 de Noviembre in the Zocalo, but the map is a little unclear… (see below)  But to reiterate: they are going to have machines launching fake snow into the air to fall on parade watchers. Love that.
  • Nativity Scenes Galore! Apparently Reforma will have 3 nativity scenes instead of the usual huts selling random gifts/food, but there will also be a LIFE SIZE nativity scene in the Estadio Azteca parking lot. It just makes sense, people!
  • More Stuff for Kids! The Zocalo will also be packed with various other activities/games/inflatable bounce houses/etc. to entertain your kiddos, so bring them on down.
  • Another Crazy-Big Rosca de Reyes!  While I am unclear if this is a world-record-breaking contender, there will nonetheless be another massive rosca de reyes (the king’s cake traditionally eaten on King’s Day) created on January 6th. Keep this in mind if you haven’t eaten enough during December.


Here’s a blurry map to give you a feel for the parade routes:

Parade maps courtesy Milenio online: http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/impreso/9068350

More info:

If you read Spanish (and/or can send website through a translator), monitor these two newspaper pages online that are tracking updates on holiday events in Mexico City: El Universal and Milenio.  Also Ciudadanosenred.com.mx may have additional details– thanks to them for their helpful article summarizing these events!

Finally, you can check out the current progress of the Mexico City ice rink & general Zocalo preparations in the video below, courtesy of El Universal:

Have a great holiday season & take advantage of all that Mexico City has to offer during this festive time!!
**Updated 11/30 to reflect the dramatic free concert news of everyone’s favorite pop star. 😉
Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

A race to the finish: our final days in Mexico City!

One year ago last weekend, John & I were on our way to the Mexico City airport for the flight that would end our 2+ year experience as chilangos. All our worldly possessions were packed, all our kitschy souvenirs had been purchased, all the tacos al pastor that one person should ingest in a one-month period had been ingested, and most of the tears had already been shed. (Luckily our flight was so early that our driver wasn’t able to see me crying in the dark during our pre-dawn trip to the airport.)

Having lived in several cities now, I’ve experienced a lot of these permanent departures which usually involve a period of “holy crap, we have to do all our favorite things one last time before we leave!!!” combined with “I can’t believe we haven’t been to place x; we have to go before leave!!!” I thought it might be amusing to reflect on what made the Final Hurrah list for us in Mexico City.

  1. Eating. At a lot of places. Repeatedly.

This should come as a surprise to no one, as obviously I wasn’t able to maintain my corn-fed, Midwestern figure by NOT gorging myself on the amazing food in Mexico City. But which were the top priorities??

Tacos Don Guero: corner of Rio Lerma & Rio Guadalquivir in Colonia Cuauhtemóc

John was such a regular here that it merited a photo on his last day of work. Great source of al pastor & bistec (beef), or ask for “a la gringa” to get it on a larger flour tortilla with tasty Oaxacan cheese.

John informed me that the "good" taquero is working in the background.... along with a whole lotta pastor!

Dulce Patria: Anatole France 100 in Polanco, in the Las Alcobas hotel

If we were still in DF, this place would have definitely become our go-to when visitors are in town for fancy, “modern” Mexican food. Much has already been written about Dulce Patria + Chef Martha Ortiz but let me second—the food is amazing, presentation is gorgeous, service is impeccable, and while prices are not cheap, I think they are very fair for the neighborhood + the quality of the food. Don’t skip the trendy drinks either.

I had a fantastic salmon dish...

...as well as a savory huazontle tart

P.S. -Learn more about huazontle from Lesley here!

Restaurante Lampuga: Ometusco 1 at the corner of Nuevo Leon in Condesa

Friends Scott & Aryani tipped us off to this great seafood spot . While many may argue for Contramar as the seafood go-to in Condesa (which I agree is amazing), Lampuga is open in the evening & has a nice bistro atmosphere with great food + reasonably priced wine. Great option for a seafood-centric dinner where you want to sample a variety of dishes among friends.

The Coyoacán Trifecta: start at Tostadas Coyoacán in Mercado de Coyoacán on Ignacio Allende, between Malintzin and Xicoténcatl

It would be hard to count how many times we did this circuit with friends/family on a Saturday afternoon.  First, find the brightly-colored yellow Tostadas Coyoacán stand inside Mercado de Coyoacán. Order an assortment of AMAZING tostadas—be sure not to miss the jaiba (crab), camarón (shrimp), and ceviche, and don’t be shy about trying the salsas on the counter. Get an agua de sandia (watermelon), jamaica (hibiscus flower) or maracuyá (passion fruit) to drink.

I could eat the tostada de camarón all day, especially with a glass of agua de maracuya

Next, leave the mercado & get to the intersection of Ignacio Allende and Malintzin. Walk south down Allende (in the opposite direction of vehicle traffic) until you see Café el Jarocho, where you’ll order a café de olla—basically dessert coffee with cinnamon & piloncillo (brown sugar). Continue a few more steps & pop into the Churreria on the same side of the street. Order either a bag of churros or an individual churro filled with dulce de leche. Dip these in your café de olla.

Everyone loves a churro

Then, go sit on the edge of the coyote fountain & reflect on how much food you just ingested.

My dad Larry and I, preparing for a rest post-churro.

Astrid y Gaston: Alfredo Tennyson 117 @ Masaryk in Polanco

I don’t think I’d tried many Peruvian ceviches before living in DF, where there are several high-end Peruvian restaurants: Astrid y Gaston, La Mar, and Restaurante Mankora. FYI—they are amazing. I’d always lumped most Pervuian food in the “variations on a theme of meat and potatoes” (which you’d think coming from the Midwest, I would have been more excited about). But Astrid y Gaston does an amazing job sexing up the traditional dishes as well as whipping out several flavorful, spicy ceviches. The service can be annoyingly hit-or-miss, but the food was solid. Don’t forget the popular Peruvian cocktail—the pisco sour. Thanks to my many Peruvian MBA classmates for introducing me to this fan-favorite. Though note to self: they go down easy but cost probably ~$150 pesos each at this joint, so budget accordingly!

I liked the "sampler" appetizer that let you test out several traditional Peruvian dishes.... I believe this was the "piqueo limeño para dos."

2. Finally taking a photo of someone sleeping in their car

This is one of those things where once you notice it happening, you suddenly see it EVERYWHERE. It made sense, as what else were the many drivers in DF to do while waiting on their passengers to emerge from their appointments/lunches/etc.?  But the sheer number of car sleepers we saw made it oddly fascinating to me. Finally I got the nerve to snap a pic, albeit from a healthy distance.

De riguer for the streets of Mexico City

3.       Stock up on guayaberas & lucha libre items

Check out our guayabera source here, and a smattering of possible lucha libre souvenirs here. The week before we left, I purchased yet another lucha libre purse, as well the lucha heads that are now gracing our bathroom….

4.       A few carefully selected museums

While I am generally not a huge museum fan (see #1 for where I am probably spending my time instead), Mexico City does have some amazing options. I made a special effort to get to-

Museo Dolores Olmedo: Avenida México 5843, La Noria, Xochimilco– you can drive or take the Xochimilco light rail (el Tren Ligero) to the Estación La Noria, after first taking the blue metro line #2 to Tasqueña. The metro & the light rail each cost 3 pesos.

Not only does this museum have a great collection of pieces from Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and beyond, but the property/gardens are gorgeous. Check out these two amusingly-divergent obituaries of Dolores Olmedo herself, one from her museum website & one from the Times.

A view of the gardens + main building at the Museo Dolores Olmedo

Some may be drawn to the screeching peacocks that roam the grounds, but the highlight for me was the collection of xoloitzcuintlis (or “Xolos” among their friends). These hairless dogs are rather fascinating, and the best part is that they all hang out sunning themselves next to a statue of a xoloitzcuintli. This results in hours of entertainment while you try to distinguish actual hairless dogs from statues of hairless dogs.

Dog vs. dog statues: you be the judge.

Casa Luis Barragan: General Francisco Ramírez 12-14, Colonia Ampliación Daniel Garza. Easy taxi ride from Polanco/Condesa/downtown, or take the subway to the Constituyentes stop. Tours cost $150 pesos.

This architect’s home is totally off the radar for most DF visitors, but I highly recommend a visit, particularly if you’re an engineer-y/architect-y type. There’s a little more prep involved, as you have to call (+52) 55.5515.4908 or email casaluisbarragan@gmail.com to make an appointment for a tour (available in both English & Spanish). When friend Brandi & I went, we had a great tour guide who offered lots of color commentary—but I may have been biased because he was so excited to have me on the tour. Apparently I am the same height that Luis Barragan was (6’2), so the guide regularly paused for my input of what various perspectives were like since I would be experiencing it the way Barragan did. :)

So why is this place cool?  Barragan won the Pritzker prize in 1980 (which is *the* award to win for architects, so he must be good, and he also designed the Torri Satélite that you may have seen driving north out of DF). There are several tall-guy tricks, like floating walls that were high enough for only him to peer over to spy on people & furniture designed to accommodate his tall frame.. There’s a staircase consisting of wooden planks sticking out from the wall, and fascinating mixtures of paint/shadows that offer really different perspectives depending on where you’re standing. The bedroom where his female guests slept was the only room in the house to have no religious iconography in it, which I found amusing. This description is obviously not doing it justice, but just trust me that it’s worth a trip. :)

Unfortunately I was not able to take any interior photos, as I was told there exists some tricky arrangement where his heirs sold the rights to a foundation in Europe & they own all images of his work… However, I did find a couple blogs with a few pics. All I can share with you is the rather uninspiring street view to assure you that this nearly-unmarked door is indeed the entrance to Casa Luis Barragan.

If you're looking for the Luis Barragan house, you've come to the right barely-marked place. :)

Basilica de Guadalupe: Plaza de las América #1, Colonia Villa de Guadalupe. Take either metro line #3 up to Deportivo 18 de Marzo (if you’re going from the Centro Historico) or line #7 up to El Rosario (if you’re going from Polanco), and transfer to line #6 in the direction of Martín Carrera.  Get off at the La Villa Basilica station, and walk north 2 blocks.

While this is more than a museum, I’m bucketing it here due to its historical value. This is a must-do for anyone intrigued by the history of the Catholic faith in Mexico. You can visit both the old & new churches, see the cloak that Juan Diego brought back after the Virgen appeared to him (while you’re on a moving sidewalk), light a candle, be sprinkled with holy water, get your photo taken while riding a fake horse, etc. etc.  This merits a full blog post to really describe the experience, but I’ll whet your appetite with a few highlights.

Moving sidewalks to control the crowds viewing Juan Diego's cloak w/the image of la Virgen

The unique roofline of the new basilica (since the old one on the left is sinking, like many other historic buildings in DF)

Doesn't this just scream "Christmas card photo"??

5.       One more visit to Mercado Jamaica

My “top market in Mexico City” rating for Mercado Jamaica was recently seconded by an unbiased third party. :)  Besides flowers, they always have a great assortment of accoutrements for whatever holiday is coming up on the horizon; I made one last trip to pick up some papel picados around Mexican Independence Day for my future decorating needs.  And don’t forget to visit for all your flower animal purchases!

This flower frog is not only precious, but he also had a button you could press to make him ribbit. Hilarious, people!

6.       See the Ballet Folklorico: performing at the Palacio de Bellas Artes; tickets can be purchased on Ticketmaster

I had unwisely assumed the word “ballet” in the title equated to “boring,” but after enough friends tried to convince me otherwise, I finally brought my dad to this when he visited a couple months before we left. It was awesome. Great music, amazing dancing, a guy dancing like a deer while wearing a deer head, what’s not to love? Put the Ballet Folklorico on your list, people!

7.       Get your picture taken with the Ángel: intersection of Reforma + Eje 2 (a.k.a. Rio Tiber or Florencia)

When a city has one icon widely associated with it, I feel moving away without a photo of you + that thing is ill-advised. In Mexico City, this icon is the Ángel de la Independencia, located on the main east-west drag through town. I recommend doing this on Sundays when Reforma is blocked off to vehicle traffic. This will significantly reduce your odds of getting run over while posing with the Ángel.

This is about as iconic as we're going to get folks, outside of me draped over a green VW bug.

8.       Attend a bullfight: Plaza México in Ciudad de los Deportes, tickets available on Ticketmaster once the season kicks off in November 2011. Take metro line #7 to San Antonio station, or take the Metrobús to the Ciudad de los Deportes station.

Attending a bullfight wasn’t on my “favorite things to repeat” list, but I did feel like I had to experience it + Plaza México once before leaving Mexico. The spectacle is fascinating, albeit a bit depressing. The phrase “not very sporting” kept running through my mind as we watched the bull be weakened by successive rounds of picadors + banderilleros before the matador even came onto the scene…  But it was interesting, many tasty snacks were served, and I’m glad I went. FYI for the sensitive among us if you decide to brave it—there are 5 or 6 rounds (each with its own bull), so go towards the end to ensure you’re watching the good matadors who make the process as quick & painless as possible.

Early on in one of the bull fights at Plaza México

Now I know this isn’t a comprehensive Mexico City to-do list …. You may be asking, “But where is the Anthropology Museum? Xochimilco? A street food tour? Attending a lucha match??  The Centro Historico??”  Do not fear– this is just a combination of our favorites + places we didn’t prioritize when moving there but later realized we had to do pre-departure.  :) Former and/or current Mexico City residents—what else have I missed?? Anything unusual spots or activities that were/are on your DF bucket list (or lista de cubeta, rather) before you leave this amazing city??

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Baja California Sur Roadtrip: Part 1-Todos Santos

When we assessed our options for a longer vacation in Mexico over Semana Santa last year, we asked ourselves the question that most tourists as themselves: what would Jennifer Aniston, Leonardo DiCaprio, & Cindy Crawford do for their vacations?   Well, as it turns out, what they would do is prance around in their swimsuits at an expensive resort in Cabo.  We decided to slightly modify that option by expanding it to all of Baja California Sur, spending less money, and minimizing the amount of time I would spend being photographed by paparazzi while scantily-clad (a constant battle, I assure you).  :)

I’d heard lots of rave reviews of Baja California Sur (even from non-celebrities!), so we plotted a Wednesday-through-Tuesday road trip to take in all the highlights over the long Easter weekend last year.  The plan was fly into La Paz, rent a car & head straight to Todos Santos (one of Mexico’s heralded Pueblos Mágicos).  We’d spend a night there, then two nights in Cabo San Lucas, then make a leisurely drive back to La Paz for three nights with a stop for lunch in San Jose del Cabo.

We had a bit of a rough start when we got bumped off our Wednesday afternoon flight from DF to La Paz for reasons yet-unknown.  But we didn’t want to admit defeat & return to our apartments, so we took Aeroméxico up on their offer to put us up in an airport hotel for the night.

Here we are, awaiting the arrival of the free shuttle to the Hotel Riazor in Mexico City... I think most of us look cheerier than how we were actually feeling at this stage.

As a side note here, for anyone in need of a hotel close to the Mexico City airport, the Hotel Riazor was actually decent/clean/convenient. For anyone in need of being in Baja California Sur, it was none of those things. :)

We made it out the next morning & arrived safely in La Paz, with great coastal views as we passed from the mainland to the peninsula.

A view of La Paz from the air

I will save the details of renting a car in Mexico for another day & time (note to self: investigate insurance options well in advance because the “but my US credit card covers rental cars!” argument doesn’t carry much water here), but we soon got on the road!  It’s about 55 miles from La Paz to Todos Santos.

Luckily driving around Baja California offers much clearer signage than Mexico City!

I wish I could offer a review of lodging in Todos Santos, but alas, our one night was foiled by our flight delay. However, I can tell you that I research hotels obsessively and had settled on Casa Bentley as the boutique hotel worthy of our love, so please check it out & report back!  The interesting thing about Todos Santos is that it doesn’t sit directly on the beach– but it’s only about a 5-minute drive or ~25 minute walk to get down to the beaches. Casa Bentley has a great map here to give you a better idea.

Clean & cute town square within Todos Santos

We spent some time wandering around the shops of tiny Todos Santos– definitely a cute little town, with kind of a up-and-coming San Miguel de Allende feel. (For those who’ve not visited San Miguel, this means lots of gringo-friendly stores & restaurants owned by a mix of Americans & Mexicans, lots of American artists peddling their wares, it’s easy to get by in English, and there’s a tendency towards gringo prices.)   It was a prime example of what John & I had realized several times during travel to more popular tourist destinations in Mexico– if we hadn’t been living in Mexico City for a year+, we would have considered the prices quite reasonable. But after living in “normal” Mexico, you become irrationally outraged at higher prices in tourist spots. :)

After eliminating a couple of the pricier restaurants I’d sussed out online, we decided to have lunch at the Hotel California at its La Coronela Restaurant & Bar.  (I think this menu is a couple years old, but it gives you an idea of the food.)  It was tasty & had fun decor + a nice palapa area to sit under outside in their courtyard.

I do love me some bull-themed decor...

...supplemented with fresh cala lilies!

Note requisite fountain + palapa in the distance! We arrived too late to snag an outdoor table-- popular spot.

After a final round of verifying that we didn’t need to make any large purchases, we took a few photos next to some noteworthy cacti and headed back to the car.

Here's the rest of the crew posing on the sidewalks of Todos Santos

My ~2 hours in Todos Santos did not allow me to suss out all that it had to offer, so I encourage you to review some other  assessments here, here, and here.  After our brief stop, we headed back out to our next destination– the famed Cabo San Lucas!  More to come on the sweet VRBO house we stayed in blocks from the beach in Cabo, followed by the best swimming I’ve ever had outside of La Paz!!

While you await my next post, keep yourself entertained wondering about this photo I snapped on the road from Todos Santos to Cabo:

"Hieleria" translates to "store that makes/sells ice". Note the sign in the middle-- No hay hielo!! There is no ice! Looks like there hasn't been ice at this spot for a while, folks...but the signage confirming that is appreciated.

And let this last photo lead you down the highway to Cabo San Lucas.... Will we see a celebrity??!? Watch and find out!

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

16 Tips for a great Mexican Independence Day

Have you ever wondered whether Mexico gets as excitable for its Independence Day as the United States does for the Fourth of July?  Are you curious what traditions Mexico has that parallel the American traditions of eating your body weight in grilled meat, dressing up in a t-shirt emblazoned with a bald eagle wrapped in a US flag holding a shotgun in its claw, and trying not to lose any digits while lighting off firecrackers?  Have you been too afraid to travel to Mexico for its Independence Day because you just weren’t sure what to wear?? My friends, I am here to help. :)

First, don’t be fooled by Mexican Independence Day’s better known brother, Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla. Mexican Independence Day falls on September 16th, but most of the festivities take place the night before on September 15th. My husband and I were lucky enough to be in Mexico for THREE Independence Days in a row– one in Acapulco and two in Mexico City. This string culminated in 2010’s Bicentenario frenzy, a.k.a. the 200th anniversary of the start of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. By this time, we’d settled in & become as well-versed in the ways of the Grito as we could hope for. So today, I pass along to you some of the tips we’ve gathered for ensuring you have a great Mexican Independence Day experience!

1. Nourish yourself with patriotic foods.

The above "chile en nogada" taco is basically the lazy man's version of this classic Mexican dish.

One of the most recognizable foods that emerges towards the end of summer is the chile en nogada. This consists of a chile poblano stuffed with a combo of meat/veg/fruit, covered in a walnut sauce & sprinkled with pomegranate seeds + cilantro. Note the colors of the Mexican flag! I sampled the above delight at the (apparently one-time) Tacos & Mariachi Festival last year, but I highly recommend you check out Cristina’s post of how to cook a chile en nogada and Lesley’s on where to do a chiles en nogada tasting in Mexico City.

2. Quench your thirst with patriotic drinks

Pretend this tall lime juice shot is a bit greener, and you'll get the Mexican flag patriotic feel... Bandera is the name for this 3 drink combo, whose color scheme matches the Mexican flag (in Spanish, also "bandera"!)

For those who have never had a bandera (the drink kind, not the actual flag kind), this is a fan-favorite combo in Mexico year-round, but it’s particularly appropriate when all those Mexican flags are waving across the country. There are a couple banderas visible in the photo above– it includes a shot of tequila, a shot of fresh lime juice, and a shot of sangrita. (Check out my current fav sangrita recipe scribbled in this pic, right side of the page, middle column, black ink starting with “3c tomato juice!”) The key here? These 3 shots are all SIPPED in sequence, not chugged. You’d order this from a waiter as “una bandera con _____” and insert whatever type of tequila you’d like there.

3. Remember that Independence Day falls within rainy season

Note the rather damp conditions that accompanied the Fiestas Patrias in 2009...

…and plan accordingly. Our 2009 celebration on the plaza in Coyoacan in Mexico City was a little wet, but as you can see above most of the locals planned accordingly with their umbrellas and rain coats!  It did put a slight damper on my themed dressing, unfortunately, and all I managed for 2009 was this:

A headband + a single flashing Mexican flag pin? This is Independence Day attire for rookies, people. Consider this the bare minimum of personal decor. :)

4. …but try not to let rain stop you from dressing up like an enthusiastic moron.

Needless to say for the Bicentenario in 2010, we got our act together and purchased as many Mexico flag-themed accoutrements as we could find for either us or our friends to wear. Street vendors are out in full force weeks before September 15 to make sure you are fully kitted up for the big day with not just clothes but also mascots.

I thought I was scoring a unique item by purchasing Señor Jalapeno in Querétaro, but of course I later saw versions of him for sale by every vendor + their pet dog in Mexico City.

John & I peaked with my tri-color mohawk, John's clown hat, flag stripes on cheeks, a necklace of tiny sombreros, and fake red/white/green braids clipped into my hair. Here we are, in the Zocalo on Sept 14th, 2011.

This crazy styrofoam foam hat was also a bold move.

I enjoyed the more traditional cowboy theme + masquerade masks that this group was sporting.

You also have the option to pick one patriotic color for your whole outfit and then add lots of meaningful messages all over the back of it... including the years of the centennial celebration & the actual Grito, as if to imply you attended those events wearing this shirt.

Dressing like a cactus is also socially acceptable... albeit more so when you are in a parade with 200 of your other closest cacti.

5. Just because your friend buys a Mexican flag-colored mohawk, doesn’t mean you can’t buy the same one.

Great minds think alike?

6. Don’t make people guess whether your dog hates Mexico. Dress him up too.

This dog obviously spotted someone else taking a photo of him in his colorful Mexican dog football top.

Let everyone know that a Mexican Muppet is driving *your* dog on Mexican Independence Day, sombreros & all.

7. If you’re a man and you’re not feeling very confident about how to apply your Mexican Independence Day makeup, ask another man to do it for you. As long as you’re both wearing manly, fake mustaches, there’s nothing unusual about it.

Nothing to see here, people.

8. If you see the below patriotic-themed person wandering the streets, don’t let him/her touch you.

Terrifying. No idea what's happening here, but I think there may have been a curse involved. The weirdest part was this person never spoke, just did a lot of lurking. Furthermore, I'm not sure any hand sanitizer was used before that glove silently caressed most of Luis's face.

9. If you’re not very good keeping track of dates and times, try to attend the next Mexican Independence Day centennial event, i.e. in 2110 for the tricentennial.

For any of you who aren’t very good with details, Mexico really helped out last year by installing massive clocks in many of the larger cities to remind you just how of many days/hours/minutes/seconds remained until the Grito. Some of these clocks survived past the bicentennial, continuing to count upwards to an unforeseen future event, but apparently that event has also passed.  Most likely, you will have to wait until 2110 (or 2109 if you’re lucky) for this level of countdown granularity to be provided again. But in the interim, you can take advantage of all the special driving routes that the Mexican government has tagged with signs for the bicentennial.

This clock serves a similarly-important purpose as that of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.

10. If you see a massive tray of what looks to be festively-spoiled eggs, buy them!

Refrigeration be dammed, I say! There is little dispute among food scientists that these confetti-filled eggs are fine to store at room temperature.

I don’t know why the egg-shell-filled-with-confetti is not a more popular confetti delivery mechanism here in the US, but these things were awesome.  Not only do these enable you to dump celebratory Independence Day confetti on your pal, but you may temporarily trick him into thinking you are breaking a raw egg on him! Oh, the hilarity! Well, that is, as long as he doesn’t see you carrying this:

Often it is hard to use your ninja sneak-attack moves when carrying a tray of 30 confetti eggs.

11. Learn at least the first few words + the tune of the Mexican National Anthem (Himno Nacional Mexicano).

Susie has the best summary I’ve seen for the national anthem, with not only the lyrics & translation but also video of hot soccer players singing it. Trust me that this WILL be sung on September 15th, and you’ll feel like less of a jerk if you can *at least* mumble things in tune.

12. Learn the Grito– this one’s easy.

The actual Grito de la Independencia (Cry of Independence) is done at 11PM on September 15th. If you’re in any town in Mexico, some important city official will stand, ring a bell, and between rings shout out the names of various war heroes. He does the hard part– remembering all these names. All you have to do is vigorously shout “¡Viva!” whenever he pauses.  Got that?  Check out a full sample Grito from Suzanne here.

13. You can never buy too many fake mustaches too far in advance.

More mustaches, more better. We actually found that some vendors had RUN OUT OF FAKE MUSTACHES by September 14th. Plan your mustache shopping well in advance.

14. Be prepared to get sprayed by a can of foam if you are in the Zocalo for the Grito on Sept. 15.

For the big celebration in 2010, we actually went down to the Zocalo a day early to check out all the preparations/lights/vendors/etc.  It was great; there were still plenty of people out, but we didn’t have to go through security, risk wall-to-walls seas of people, or get doused in foam. I know it’s not the same as being there for the main event, but it was the next best thing!

Note the lack of spray foam coating our clothing.

15. Don’t forget to check out the annual Military Parade on Sept. 16 in Mexico City…but be careful where you sit.

The day after all the Grito craziness, there’s a fascinating show of Mexico’s military presence in a slooooow parade down Reforma. (Hint: wear good shoes.)

These armed ladies were a crowd favorite.

A number of the military companies had a B.Y.O.H. policy (bring your own hawk).

Here is my “where not to sit” photo montage:

I was constantly watching these children, and was amazed that their porta-potty roof seats did not collapse before a policeman finally suggested they relocate. I don't recommend you sit atop a porta-potty.

16. And last but not least, don’t forget that even though your 20-story office building might seem soulless, perhaps he would also like to participate in Mexican Independence Day.

My question: is there a row of windows under there whose inhabitants have to live in darkness from August to September?

While you’re here, check some of my fellow Mexico Today bloggers who are also writing about the mes de patria this month! You can click on the logos below to visit their sites. Enjoy!

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Sparkling Wineries in Querétaro: Viva Freixenet!

Who can forget that first bottle of "champagne" you purchased from the local convenience store? ;)

I’ve shared before how I’m a sucker for well-branded tourism, so Querétaro’s efforts to promote their wine & cheese “route” certainly did not fall on deaf ears during my time in México. Even before we made our trip to Finca Vai for some cheese tasting, we drove from Mexico City to the same area in Querétaro to check out our nearby winery options.  (One has to prioritize, people.)  Cavas Freixenet was the first place to catch our eye, as I was quick to recognize the Freixenet brand name. “Aren’t they the people with that jet black bottle & trendy gold writing at a $10 price point?” I asked John.

We headed out near the town of Ezequiel Montes in Querétaro state, just north of Tequisquiapan, to visit the Mexican arm of Freixenet (the mother ship is headquartered in Spain).  I kept my expectations low, as I had observed that their website listed a number of special events happening at the winery… If I had learned nothing else from my time living in Virginia & touring its wineries, I had developed a hypothesis that there’s an inverse correlation between the quality of wines produced by a vineyard and the number of special events the vineyard has to host to sucker you into visiting & drinking its wine. :)

Once you see this sign, you have arrived in sparkling-wine-ville.

Cavas Freixenet offers free guided tours on the hour between 11AM & 4PM on the weekends, so John & I decided to check out the inner workings.

Their machinery seemed to be well-kept, in as much as I am familiar with winery equipment... (which is: not very)

Next, we descended into the bowels of the winery...

I was actually quite impressed with their cellars... massive arched brick tunnels...

...and wine stacked as high as the eye could see....

We also learned about the aging process, how they move the angle of the bottle to let the sediment collect in the neck & then be "disgorged."

After trotting around the cellars, then we headed back up to the courtyard for the real action: the tastings.  Most of their product line is available by the glass at very reasonable prices from carts in the courtyard, and then you can pop into the shop to buy any bottles you want starting at <$100 pesos.  In honor of my former days of drinking pink champagne with my roommates in Boston, I went with one of their rosé options.

This is how I was meant to live.

So how was the Freixenet wine?  Actually not half bad!  In another page from my Virginia winery experiences, I realized that enough sugar can hide a world of ills when it comes to wine…. but even their brut options were pretty drinkable.  We stocked up on several bottles of either the Petillant Brut or the Sala Vivé (my memory fails me) with an eye towards a mimosa-fueled brunch in our future, plus a few rosé for any upcoming girls’ nights out.  Definitely worth a visit if you have any sparkling wine-oriented parties coming up, as I think the bottles we bought were around $80-some pesos each.  On the way out, we verified that grapes are indeed grown here:

The vines of Freixenet in Querétaro state, Mexico

If you’re interested in a visit to Cavas Freixenet, there’s a good map on their website. But much like my prior cheese tourism post highlighted Finca Vai’s little shop in Tequisquiapan as an alternative to visiting the source, you can also experience the Freixenet wines at their shop in Tequisquiapan! During our next trip through Querétaro up towards Xilitla in February 2010, our schedule didn’t permit a winery visit, so we checked out the wine bar instead.

The Freixenet World's Wine Bar is tucked down a little side street off the main plaza in Tequis: Andador 20 de Noviembre

We enjoyed a lovely bottle of bubbly outside the bar...

Tell me where in the States you could polish off a bottle of brut + 2 orders of snacks for <$20 dollars? :)

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I don’t think all Queretaran vineyards are created equal…  We didn’t manage to visit La Redonda vineyard, but we were feeling bad about that so instead we ordered a bottle of their red wine at dinner in Tequis.  Let’s just say our group was not enthused:

The table offers a verdict on La Redonda's innovatively-named "vino tinto"

We were unimpressed and feeling like we got a bad deal, until we noticed the back of the bottle:

I think it's safe to say anyone who orders a bottle of wine whose labels aren't even applied in the right direction, shouldn't be hoping for much in the quality department.

The upside-down label perhaps should have been our first clue…

In summary, Cavas Freixenet can be an amusing day trip from DF, particularly when combined with cheese eating and photo opportunities with taxidermied birds in the entrance of a random Tequisquiapan hotel:

I always say, nothing tops off a evening of wine tasting like a stuffed ostrich.

Enjoy, and if you want to learn more about Mexican wines, check out my friend Lesley’s blog here or ask her about wine tasting tour options in Mexico City. And I would love to know– what other Mexican wine favorites have I been missing out on??

UPDATE– Check out even more wine & cheese tips from friend Alvin, who runs a B&B in Oaxaca!

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

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