Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Mexico City Metro

We rarely take taxis when we travel. We prefer to take the subways or buses, depending on the Cities.  Mexico City was no different.  Our hotel wasn’t all that close to a Metro Station but that didn’t stop us from using the train every day of our visit.  All else being equal, if given the choice between taking the City bus or the subway, I’ll always choose the subway. You know where the subway is going to go – and while they can alter the stops (skipping one or more), the train never goes on detour and takes a different road and drops you off god knows where.

The Mexico City Metro is very large, with 12 Lines, and 195 Stations.  It is the 11th largest (based on length) in the world with 1.6 billion (yes, with a ‘B’) rides annually.

Mexico City Metro train entering the station. Photo property of http://blog.allthedumbthings.com/

The frequency was absolutely amazing too – we never had to wait more than 3 minutes for a train any time we wanted to ride.  That aspect reminded me so much of Paris.  What didn’t remind me of Paris was how crowded the cars got, especially on the weekends.  We actually had to wait for the next train a couple times on Saturday since the car was absolutely packed.

Despite the cars operating at more than full capacity, there was still plenty of room for men with huge speakers strapped to their back playing their (or their family members) new music from their mariachi band (mostly – although some people were selling their own rap albums).  Honestly, some of the bands/artists were quite good.  People were also selling all sorts of small crap – which I assumed they just stole from a store and are now marking a profit off of it.  On the train we could buy batteries, gum, candies, postcards and one lady was even selling small bottles of cleaning supplies and toothpaste.  What was more surprising is that people were actively buying this crap.  One lady we watched on the train bought something from every single vendor that passed.  She looked like she was doing her Saturday shopping without ever leaving her train seat.  We did not buy anything on the train – my biggest concern was that (even if we wanted something) when we were purchasing it, the vendor’s cohort would then be picking our pockets, etc.  This sales practice seems all the norm in Mexico City – no one batting an eyelash (except when the music was so loud and jarring you couldn’t help but close your eyes, so they wouldn’t burst out of your head.

Mexico City Metro System Map

All in all, I would highly recommend using the Mexico City Metro to get around the City. Just like subways in other Cities (or any place with a large number of people in a small/confined area), be aware of your surroundings, keep your valuables secured (in zipped pockets or better yet, locked up in your hotel room or back at home).  Don’t flash any sums of money on the train either.  There is no reason to have your wallet out on the subway.

There are various subway apps to download, so you’ll always know where your closet station is.  Head over to the official Mexico City Metro website to review the maps now. Live like the locals. Take the subway.

What is your favorite mode of transportation while traveling?  Do subways frighten you?

Dining Out:Mexico City

One of the reasons we chose to visit Mexico City was for the food.  We love Mexican food and one of my favorite quick trips was a few years ago where I traveled to Cancun (ugh, I know) and took a Mexican Cooking Class a the Ritz Carlton – and it was amazing.    From that point on, I made Mexican food a priority when I cook and when I go out.  Mexico City is the perfect destination for food.

So, where did we end up going?  Unfortunately, we didn’t hit any street vendors, MS was a little too skittish, as his previous visit to Mexico City ended with him getting quite ill.  We ended up eating at a nice mix of restaurants:

La Fonda del Refugio (166 Londres Avenue): We ate here for dinner our first night in town. This place was a little difficult for us to find – mostly because the TripAdvisor App for Mexico City really sucked – but more on that in a different post.  The margaritas at La Fonda del Refugio were really amazing (even better than the ones I make…and that’s saying a lot).  I kicked off the meal with the Chicken Tortilla Soup which was just average and I had the enchiladas verdes which were pretty tasty, but the sauce had so much garlic it burned my mouth a bit and overpowered the otherwise great flavors.  I would definitely revisit for the great margaritas – but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here though.

Pujol (Francisco Petrarca 254): Our second night in Mexico City, we managed to score reservations (with less than 24 hours notice) at this restaurant, which at the time of our visit was ranked the 15th best restaurant in the world.  We had early reservations (18h30) and were seated immediately upon arrival.  The prix-fix menu was great with modern takes on classic Mexican dishes – for example, an amazing elote con mayonesa – or baby ear corn with mayo – a high end version of the classic Mexican street dish.  I enjoyed the food here a lot – I was less impressed with the sommelier though.  After reviewing the wine list, I asked the somme to recommend a bottle for about 1,000 pesos – his first recommendation was for 2,800…then his second at 3,500. I reminded him my price point — which he then suggested a 600 peso.  There were many options in that price point too — I had to pick out the wine myself.  It turned out to be an acceptable decision, nothing stellar though.  Although Pujol is rated the 15th best restaurant in the world, the meal sure wasn’t the 15th best I’ve ever eaten — don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the meal/experience, but I wouldn’t even place this meal in my top 100 meals ever.

Agua y Sal Cevicheria (Campos Eliseos 199-A):  We hit this place our third night in Mexico City – it was in the heart of the douchy area that we really didn’t want to spend much time in.  This place had huge selection of ceviches and some great seafood entrees as well.  This was also the first place where I completely understood what the servers were saying (while they spoke Spanish).  They spoke so clearly and slowly, it was a breath of fresh air.  We had a couple different ceviches to start with and then each had a fish entree – mine was with a diabola sauce, which was way too spicy and overpowered the fish.  I say this as a guy who loves spicy food.

Astrid y Gaston (Alfred Tennyson No. 117): Our final dinner in Mexico City was at this little Peruvian gem. MS had eaten at this small chain restaurant while in Chile and really enjoyed it.  We showed up for 20h00 reservations and were seated outside, near the fireplace.  We were by far the most under-dressed people around – and by under-dressed I mean we were the ones wearing the least amount of cold weather clothes.  It was about 18C during dinner, which was great for us, but the citizens of Mexico City were quite cold.  Being a Peruvian restaurant, Astrid y Gaston also has some great ceviches.  We started off our meal with a pisco sour and some great tuna cevhice.  I had a very tasty duck entree.  The service at AyG was pretty top notch and I look forward to revisiting this specific restaurant and other locations throughout South America.

The food we had in Mexico City was pretty good all in all. I do wish we had some local to direct us to the best street food vendors – like we had in Shanghai.  Next time.

AAdvantage Passport Challenge – 10K Free Miles (1,050 Really Though)

AA Passport Challenge PicAmerican Airlines AAdvantage Program is offering a Facebook Challenge where you can earn up to 10K AAdvantage Bonus Miles.  To earn the full 10K miles you need to complete a series of trivia questions and fly with US Airways, American and OneWorld carriers.  For all intents and purposes you can easily earn 1,050 miles by answering a series of trivia questions and sharing with your friends on Facebook.  The additional miles you earn for flying are great if you already have travel planned with AA, but it sure isn’t worth booking a special trip for.

The trivia questions are pretty straight forward and if you don’t already know the answers you can just Google them — there’s no time limit either.  Going through all the trivia questions took me about 15-20 minutes and I did it while I was watching TV.  I don’t know how long it will take for the points to post, but I have no reason to believe they won’t — and hell, if they don’t, it was 20 minutes out of my life.

While these miles won’t get you very far – it’s always nice to get a few free miles.  These miles could help you top off your account for a future award or keep your account active so your miles don’t expire.

Bike Tour: Chapultepec-Reforma-Roma-Condesa

We love to take bike tours when we travel.  We’ve seen Stellenbosch, South Africa, Paris, Barcelona, Dublin, Shanghai, Vietnam and London by bike.  Mexico City easily made the list of Cities we wanted to explore by bike as well.  As in the past I turned to TripAdvisor but this time, I found a single bike tour offering – luckily it looked interesting.  I shot an email to Mexico City Bike Tour, explaining to them what we wanted to see and how much time we wanted to spend.  They responded within a couple hours letting me know that their standard Chapultepec-Reforma-Roma-Condesa tour would fit our needs.  Book it!

We met our guide at their “office”, which is really just a shed where they store their bikes.  Two other travelers joined us on this tour – both singles – one man from Boston and a young female chef from China, who lives and works in Orlando.  After brief introductions, we were given helmets, retro-reflective vests and a bike.  The bikes were a little run down – by far the worst condition of any bike tour company I’ve used in the past.  The breaks were a little shoddy and my seat wouldn’t stay at the proper elevation — several times I felt like I was riding the bicycle equivalent of a low-rider.  I was concerned about my personal safety from time to time while on the ride, that’s for sure.

The tour was lead by a great guide who is a trained urban planner, with a passion for the environment and a mission to change the way we all think and live in modern Cities.  Mexico City has an amazing traffic problem – but surprisingly (at least to me) a popular bike share program that’s been around since February 2010 and currently has more tan 4,000 bikes and 276 stations.  We made dozens of stops throughout our 4 hours bike ride.

Our first stop was about 5 minutes from our meeting point.  This first quick stop was to confirm that our bikes were all in working order (and mine was at this point), to learn a bit more about our guide and go over the basics of the program.  Antonio asked each of us what we were passionate about – what we wanted to learn while on the trip: History? Architecture? Food? Politics? Colonialism? Future of Mexico?  Our group of four were really focused on History and Architecture – thank god we didn’t have a group of anti-intellectuals who just wanted to ride from bar to bar (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that — just not something I was keen on for this ride).

Colorful Christmas Food and Gift Stalls

Colorful Christmas Food and Gift Stalls

First stop - showing off the poinsettias.  The City was really prepping for Christmas and these beautiful flowers were being planted far and wide.

First stop – showing off the poinsettias. The City was really prepping for Christmas and these beautiful flowers were being planted far and wide.

On our trip we learned about the Spanish invasion (my words, not Antonio’s) of the Aztec empire and the subsequent draining of the lakes around current day Mexico City. We also learned about the impact this had on the land and how the area around Mexico City is still settling and you can easily see the impacts of this settling.  We came across an Obelisk that was constructed in the early 20th Century and over the past 100 years has sunk quite a bit – requiring additional stairs to be constructed (you can see the different colored stairs – this is how much the surrounding area has sunk).

Sinking into the City.

Sinking into the City.

We toured Chapultepec Park and learned about various native plants and saw exhibits that showed how the area that is now Mexico City looked around the time of the Spanish invasion.  We continued down the Reforma (where our hotel was located), which is a street full of tourist attractions (shops and hotels) and is a major street where the residents of Mexico City celebrate and protest (which, you’ve read about here).

Our guide passionately educating us about Mexico City and her History and Architecture.

Our guide passionately educating us about Mexico City and her History and Architecture.

Our guide found a great little place for lunch – a place he had never been before, but his colleagues had recommended.  We ordered several appetizers and entrees all to split.  The chiles rellenos were by far my favorite.  Although the place we stopped didn’t have a visible sign and our guide who knew the exact intersection had a hell of a time finding it – sorry guys.

We began winding our way back through the park stopping to take pictures and to allow one of the slower members of our group to catch up – this last portion had more elevation to climb (some hills and some man made elevation like overpasses, etc) than anywhere else on the tour.  The slowpoke in our group also wasn’t an avid bicycles, so often she’d swerve unexpectedly and run into other members of the tour.  She was a bit rogue – I had to stay away from her while riding.

We managed to make our way through the winding streets back to the little shed where the bikes are stored.  I enjoyed our bike ride through Mexico City.  I still feel this is the best way to experience any City.  Unlike other tours, our guide had an interesting professional background – instead of being a student who had studied a script, this guide was a trained urban planner with a vision for the future of Mexico City and all modern Cities. A vision where cars aren’t the required mode of transport and the pollution they spew aren’t choking all life in the area.

As noted above, my biggest concern was the operational safety of the bikes themselves.  I thought the guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about cycling and the evolving City.  Have you biked in Mexico City?  Do you prefer to have a trained professional (architect, urban planner, historian, etc) or just a normal person whose been trained as a guide?

Help me Travel: Madrid, Seville and Jerez

It has been a couple weeks since I’ve gotten some use out of my passport, hasn’t it?  We’ve decided instead of taking a big two week trip in March this year (like we did in 2011 and 2013 — we skipped 2012 because of this) we’re taking just a week and visiting Spain.  We’re taking some time to revisit Madrid, take some day trips from Madrid, spending a couple days in Seville and Jerez.

It’s been nearly 17 years since I’ve been in Madrid (good god, that’s depressing).  We’ve got out hotels booked throughout the trip, but I need your help. As I always ask, where should we eat? What tourist attractions should we visit – and which ones have you visited, but recommend staying away from?  We’re looking for some fine dining places, casual eateries and while in Jerez we want to experience the Sherry Culture – so we need ideas on locales, tours, shops, everything.

Paella – photo from http://caminoways.com

I wasn’t a fan of port until we visited Oporto Portugal, now I absolutely love it.  I’m not a big fan of Sherry right now, but am confident, once I learn more about it, experience it in it’s native land, I’ll really dig it too.

So send me your recommendations.  I’m a couple trip reports behind now, but I’m working to catch up.  Give me suggestions and I’ll write about as many as I can.  And yes, Mexico City, Stockholm and Quebec trip reports are in the queue…

In addition to Spain, we’ll have a 6 hour layover in Brussels, in which we’ll be escaping the airport so I can practice my French — so I’ll need your best suggestions for these great Spanish Cities as well as Brussels. What’s your favorite stop in each of these Cities?