Monday, October 16, 2017

La Concha Bay in San Sebastian is spectacular!

La Concha beach is very grandiose and one of the most beautiful in the world.   La Concha beach is sheltered between Mount Urgell on the east and Mount Igueldo on the west.  The shape of the bay explains the name "concha" (shell).  It has a length of 1,350 meters and an average width of 40 meters.  I say average, since the tides can strongly influence the size of this beach on the Atlantic Ocean.
The elegant Art Nouveau railing of La Concha Bay is very symbolic in San Sebastian.  It runs the whole length of the bay and it makes for a lovely walk.   
The railing was built in 1910 by Juan Raphael Alday but it was not until 1916 when King Alfonso XII officially inaugurated the railing.  The construction cost about 34 Euros (5,700 pesetas at the time).
Walking west of my hotel, the Hotel de Londres y de Iglaterra, one comes upon a stately building across the street, formerly the Royal House.
In the 19th century La Concha beach was the place where Queen Isabel II came for her bath therapy, after her doctor recommended this.  Soon San Sebastian turned into the summer residence of the Spanish royal family and also a place where other European royals would spend their summers.
It is in front of the former Royal House that the section of the railing is different from the rest.  The round design has become oval.
You can either stroll along the beach or walk above it on the boardwalk.
The symbolic street lanterns of La Concha bay are made into little sculptures that are used as the awards during the International Film Festival which is held every August.
You can find the end of La Concha beach at the "Pico de Loro" (the so called parrot’s beak).
The "Pico de Loro" is a small passage of rocks which disappears during high tide.  Behind this “Pico de Loro” the Ondaretta beach starts, this beach is also located in the Concha bay and its border is marked by the Igueldo mountain.
An exciting event to witness is the "Day of the Dance".  For one day every March , more than a thousand students of classical dance perform next to the railing.
The Basque name for a citizen of San Sebastian is Donostiarra.  There is a popular saying in San Sebastian, "You're more Donostiarra than the railing of La Concha".  
It's a beautiful spot, one of my favorite places and every time I am here, I pretend to be a

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Beverage graphics in Mexico are some of the best!

Mexico has some of the best graphics when it comes to their beverages.
Walking around the market in Oaxaca and I came upon such a nice lady that was more than happy to pose for me.  I could not have choreographed this any better if I had tried.  The colors in her outfit with the turquoise enamel pot were just so colorful against the Coca-Cola graphic behind her.  When I returned the next year with one of my groups, I brought her a copy of this photo and she was so excited to receive it.
Driving back into San Cristobal de Las Casa from visiting the small villages of Zinacantan and San Juan Chamula up in the highlands, I shot this as I was at the wheel passing by.  

 These are tiles making up the Coca-Cola sign in the Guadalupe area in San Miguel de Allende.
When traveling around Chiapas with my friend Esther in 2016, we were driving from San Cristobal de Las Casas to Palenque.  We stopped at a comedor for a bite to eat and there were 4 big Corona trucks in the parking lot.  I am sure these drivers thought, what are these gringas doing in the middle of no where eating at this roadside comedor.  They were very polite and we all wished each other, "buen provecho".
After leaving San Cristobal de Las Casas on our way to Palanque, we stopped to take some photos of the countryside and a gorgeous waterfall.  This Coca-Cola graphic was painted on the side of a little road side stall.  Has a bit of Andy Warhol to it.
Indio cerveza, a crisp amber lager that I had at a restaurant on the main plaza in Guanajuato.  Made by Bohemia, it's a very refreshing beer on a hot day.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

A few changes over time in San Miguel de Allende

Remember when.....  I shot this photo of Plaza Civica with the Salud Church and the Oratorio Church in the background in San Miguel in the mid 1990's.  A lot of changes can be seen around town but you really don't realize it until you look at some old photos. 
The landscaping around Allende's sculpture has been enhanced along with new stone pavers on the plaza.  The trees have matured and are beautifully trimmed.  The lights have become more elaborate.  And the white facades of the buildings have taken on some color.  Even the bell tower of the Oratorio Church has been painted in some colorful tones.
It's subtle changes though.  Ole San Miguel will never lose its colonial charm.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

My special birthday lunch at Gombos in San Miguel de Allende

We had left the house in Denver around 3:30 in the morning and really had not eaten much of anything all day.  We arrived into San Miguel de Allende around 4:00 in the afternoon and we immediately headed down to Gombos on Calle Hidalgo No. 34 (formerly known as Casa Blanca) for a margarita and some nachos.  I asked Louis if there were squash blossoms in the market and he said SI!   They are my all time favorite seasonal food in Mexico.  I asked if Maricela (his sister and chef) and I could make them one day.   Lucky for me, we scheduled it for noon on my birthday, July 4th, at the other Gombos in Colonial Guadalupe (Calle Tata nacho No. 2).
With my Gombos apron on, Maricella and her other brother, Pablo started to get to work.  We had over thirty squash blossoms which were rinsed off, the pistil taken out of the center and then stuffed with goat cheese.
In the mean time, I had Pablo roast some tomatoes, a serrano pepper and a few cloves of garlic.  He then pureed all of the vegetables in a blender along with some cilantro and salt to taste.
Next step was to mix up the beer batter (beer, salt, flour and a pinch of cayenne).
Once the vegetable oil had come up to boil, around 350', we dredged each squash blossom into the beer batter and carefully set them in the hot oil.  Then fried them until golden brown and drained them on some paper towels.
In the mean time, Len was in the restaurant reading his book, enjoying a Negro Modelo and eagerly waiting for the squash blossoms to be ready.
With Maricela's other brother, Miguel, we sat down to a wonderful meal of squash blossoms with a roasted salsa and a cold beer.  Life is good and what a treat on my birthday.  And I now have my own Gombos t-shirt.  Does that mean I am part of the team?
 The day before I left San Miguel, I went to Gombos on Calle Hidalgo 34, for my last comida (lunch) and Maricela surprised me with a huge plate of squash blossoms.  I was in heaven.
This was taken at Christmas time in 2003, 14 1/2 years ago!  What a great family, great friends, not to mention a great restaurant.

For more on my dining experiences at Gombos, go to my post dated July 14, 2010.  The menu and great food is the same, just the name changed from Casa Blance to Gombos.

For more on my Squash Blossoms, go to my post dated August 2, 2010.

Buen Provecho!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Restorante Italiano D' Yoalli outside of San Miguel de Allende

One of my all time favorite places to dine when I am in San Miguel de Allende is at the Restorante Itlaiano D' Yoalli just outside of town.  Len and I were celebrating my birthday, well actually I had been celebrating all week.  The margaritas are some of the best in town.
The setting is beautiful and the landscaping has really matured.
This particular day, we had the whole patio to ourselves with the view of the campo (countryside).  Every time I am here, I spot one bird that has the brightest red chest.  No, it is not a Robin.
Today we started with freshly made spinach ravioli in a butter Gorgonzola sauce.  Delicious as always.  Other days we opt for the squash blossom raviolis.  And the pastas are all hand made and so good.  The week before I could not decide what to have as our starter.  The calamari salad is one of my favorites but this time we had the beef carpaccio that was also excellent.
For our entree we had the veal served with a little butter and sage sauce that just melted in your mouth it was so tender.   Other entrees that I also like to order is the fresh fish, quail and lamb. 
We finished off the meal with a glass of black sambuca.  Another great birthday meal!
Another component that makes dining here so special are the two waiters, Jorge and Juan Manuel.  As we were leaving,  I had them all sing La Cucaracha.  The Three Tenors!  Len was doing a great job belting out the song but I love the way Jorge is looking at Len and Juan Manuel was just laughing at the whole ordeal.   When ever I call for a reservation, their voice always light up when they hear it is me calling.  They certainly treat me like royalty.  It's also one of my favorite places to bring my groups when I do my San Miguel de Allende tour.

Buen Provecho!

Ristorante Italiano D'Yoalli
Open Thursday - Sunday
Carr. San Miguel de Allende - Atotonilco Km. 7.4
(415) 185-2317

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Join me next February for an adventure to Chiapas, The Magic of the Maya World

This last February I lead a tour to a glorious old, old part of Mexico in the southern state of Chiapas.  We experienced its ancient Maya monuments and temples, visited with its warm and friendly people and saw firsthand the incredible work these artisans create.  It was such a memorable trip.  One lady friend, who has been on all of my Mexico tours, sent me the nicest note in which she wrote, "I can't thank you enough for planning the 'Grande Adventure' trip to Chiapas.  I can't think of anything I would have changed.  It was one of the best so far!"  I had hired a wonderful driver with a spacious Sprinter van and a very knowledgeable historian who was our guide the entire trip.  Not only was our guide extremely knowledgeable, she was such a pleasure to be with.  I could not have had a better crew.

It was such a great trip and so different than my other Mexican tours, that I have decided to lead another tour to Chiapas.  The Magic of the Maya World journey is set for February 8 - 16, 2018.  This time, I have added another day in San Cristobal de Las Casa.  You'll be gone 9 days which includes travel.  Below are just some of the highlights of the upcoming trip!
 The first night will be spent at a quaint hotel right in Chiapa de Corzo.  (See my post dated April 20, 2017 to read about the town's square and history)
The next morning will will visit the pristine plaza before heading down to the river
where we will visit one of Chiapa's most impressive natural wonders when we  take a boat trip up the Grijalva River.  The river winds through the Canon de Sumidero whose limestone walls reach a kilometer high in some places.  A haven for all kinds of birds and Spider monkeys.  (See my post dated June 28, 2016 on more photos of the Canon)
We'll spend three nights in San Cristobal de Las Casa which was founded in 1528 and is full of historic churches, museums and old architecture.  There is a large artisan market right next to the Santo Domingo church.
Chiapas is known for its textiles; huipiles, rebozas, blankets, purses, table runners...  You will find the creative pottery from Amantenanga del Valle.  The area is famous for its amber and we will visit one of the best amber jewelry stores in town.
A visit to the beautiful Ex-convento de Santo Domingo which is home to the Museo de los Altos.  There is a phenomenal Maya textile collection located on the second floor.  The main floor showcases Pre-Colombian textiles and carvings, paintings and religious artifacts from the Spanish conquistadors along with displays giving an overview of the diverse indigenous groups in the region. 
An example of the colorful architecture in San Cristobal de Las Casas.
Calle de Guadalupe in the historic center of San Cristobal de Las Casas is one of the pedestrian streets, lined with quaint restaurants, galleries and shops.
A side trip from San Cristobal de Las Casas will take us north to San Juan Chamula in the Highlands.  One of the most interesting churches with an interior that is like no other in Mexico.  (see my post dated April 28,2016).
I have specifically planned the itinerary on these dates so we will be in San Juan Chamula during Carnival.  Carnival is an official Mexican holiday that kicks off a five-day celebration  before the Catholic lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Beginning the weekend before Lent, Carnival is celebrated exuberantly with parades, costumes, music and dancing in the streets.

It is an exciting time during Carnival and something one should not miss.
A visit to the colorful Sunday market in the Highland's village of Zinacantan.
The church in Zinacantan was beautifully decorated with flowers grown nearby (a big industry in this area). 
Each Chiapas highland village has their own unique attire, hand-woven that is embellished with a cross-stitch or embroidery.  The embroidered shawls worn by the women of Zinacantan were just exquisite.  (See my post dated February 26, 2016 for more photos and information about Zinacantan).
As we leave San Cristobal de las Casas, we will travel through gorgeous countryside on the way to the jungle setting of Palenque.
We will spend the morning in Tonina, one of the best Maya archaeological sites that sees very little visitors.  This ball court is one of the Maya's largest, almost 200 feet long and unique with it's sunken construction.
Tonina (Tzetltal Mayan for House of Stone) is believed to be the last major city to succumb to the abrupt collapse that hit the Maya in the 9th century.
The view from the top with the spectacular view of the valley.  After all the climbing, we relaxed over a picnic lunch and an ice cold beer at the site.
Two nights will be spent at the Chan-Kah Resort.  Set in a manicured jungle setting, you will have your own casita while enjoying the huge main pool and the open-air restaurant with a wonderful view.
The Palenque ruins are the crown jewel of the archaeological sites not only in Chiapas but in the entire Maya empire.   
There is a sense of sophistication about Palenque. (For more information on Palenque, check my posts out on my Blog:  August 28, 2016, March 21, 2017 and March 31, 2017.)
After touring the ruins, we will visit the fabulous museum where you will see many pieces that are almost perfectly preserved.
Part of the fun getting to the ruins of Yaxchilan is the smooth, the 45-minute boat ride down the Usumacinta River which divides Mexico and Guatemala.  The scenery is magnificent and you may spot a Howler monkey up in a riverside tree.
Yaxchilan, an ancient city overlooking the Osumacinta River, has a magical feel to it.  The setting was just enchanting, as were the ruins.
Bonampak is a modest archaeological sight in comparison to the others, but it has some of the best Maya murals ever discovered.   The brightly colored frescoes are amazing.  One shows a fierce jungle battle scene where another shows the crowning of a boy king.

I could go on and on about the wonderful adventures in this unique part of Mexico.  
If you are interested in joining me, please send me an email with your address and 
I will send you the detailed itinerary along with pricing.