Back in Barbados

Barbados

Avert your eyes now if a bit of tropical sun is too painful to comprehend at this point of winter! Last week we scooted back out to Barbados for a little escape from January blues. (In case you’re wondering, the villa is in my mum’s side of the family so we’re lucky enough to get free use of it every so often.) I posted a lot about Barbados two years ago when we last went, so I’ll keep it short this time! Mainly because we actually did do less as well – having visited before it was good to not feel pressured into dashing around seeing all there was to offer on the island. We hit a couple of favourite places from last time and a few new things, but also had a lot of down-time just relaxing at the beach or pool.

Barbados
Barbados

We spent a bit of time at a few beaches on the south coast, where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean. It’s noticeably rougher than the west coat (where our villa was) due to stronger winds and tides, so not so good for swimming but you can still go catamaran sailing, try surfing, or go turtle-spotting. Or you know, just sit around eating chips and drinking rum punch.

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48 hours in Paris

Paris

We took a quick little hop over to Paris at the weekend, my main 30th birthday present to Josh. Unfortunately it coincided with us both being cripplingly ill with bad colds, so we kind of took it easy and spent most of the time near to our Airbnb in the Marais district. Luckily with St Pancras only half an hour from our door and our apartment the same distance the other side, the Eurostar trip itself was super easy so the travelling wasn’t too much of a backbreaker.

Paris

That was no bad thing really as the Marais is a totally charming area, stuffed with beautiful boutiques, cool restaurants and cosy cafes. I haven’t really scratched the surface of Paris before, but I’d definitely stay in this area again. It’s a little out of the way of the tourist sites like Monmartre and the Eiffel Tower/big museums, but we weren’t really interested in those so it worked out great for the quieter pace of our weekend.

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Beyond Oaxaca

Cooking class

The city of Oaxaca is nestled in a valley in the middle of Oaxaca state, an area not far off the size of England. In fairly close radius around the city are lots more towns and villages as well as some spectacular scenery and ruins, so we were able to take lots of day trips to see more of the state.

Cooking class

One day we took a cooking class in the weaving town of Teotitlan with Maria Reynes of El Sabor Zapoteca.

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Market day at Tlacolula

Oaxaca

Tlacolula is a city about a 20 minute drive from Oaxaca, famous for both its 16th century church and its huge Sunday market, to which thousands of people from the neighbouring towns and countryside flock. We took a cab out there the day after arriving in Oaxaca on Saturday night to check it out.

Oaxaca
Oaxaca
Oaxaca

The market really is absolutely ginormous – up to 1,000 individual traders – and quite disorienting, although it’s hard to get completely lost as it’s all on gridded streets. The main things on sale are vegetables and fruit, toys, clothing, kitchenalia, and street food. There’s a pleasing lack of souvenirs or tourist things because at heart it’s a market for locals, who come from all the nearby towns and villages to shop and socialise. So for us it was really a chance to soak in the culture and atmosphere (and to eat) rather than to shop.

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Around Oaxaca

Oaxaca

After a week of scampering around the vastness of Mexico City, it was great to have a week in the much smaller and more relaxed city of Oaxaca to decompress a bit. Nearly 300 miles south of DF, Oaxaca is the calm, low-slung, cultural and historical yin to the capital’s busy, built-up, somewhat personality-less yang.

Oaxaca

We caught the ADO GL bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca, costing about $650/£30 each. We pre-booked the bus a few days before our departure day by visiting the ADO bus terminal near the San Lazaro metro stop in DF, though the bus was barely a quarter full in the end so we probably could have bought on the day. The bus was comfortable and spacious, but the 7 hour journey did feel very long and tiring. I think a flight, like we did on the last day to catch our connecting flight home, might be a better option.

Oaxaca

You do get rewarded with some striking views about three-quarters of the way through the journey, as you rise into the mountains that frame the Oaxacan valley.

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Coyoacán and Casa Azul

Coyoacán

One of my favourite days in Mexico City was the day we spent in Coyoacán, a district to the south of our base in Condesa. It was quickly and easily accessed via the metro but offers a welcome wind-down from the dense city centre. I’d definitely recommend a trip there if you’re visiting D.F to soak in the relaxed pace, little cobbled streets and pretty open plazas.

Casa Azul

Casa Azul
Casa Azul

My main reason for wanting to visit was to go to Casa Azul, the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Josh was somewhat reluctant beforehand but ended up really liking it too. You enter into a very pretty planted courtyard.

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Mexico City: eats, drinks and markets

Obviously, one of our main reasons for visiting Mexico was for the food. London has some good Mexican places but I was really interested to see how the real stuff compares – and what actually constitutes a real Mexican dish and which are fake exports. I’m looking at you, burritos. In general we ate really well, almost always going for Mexican food (not that there is that much foreign food around anyway – mostly Italian, Argentinian or American places) and we tried the whole gamut from 50p streetside tacos to a high-end tasting menu at supposedly the best restaurant in Mexico City. I was pleased to find that it wasn’t hard at all to find vegetarian options nearly everywhere – and honestly, they looked a heck of a lot more appealing than a lot of the meat!

Mexico City

Breakfast is a fun meal. You can go for pastries and coffee at one of the many bakeries around (Mexicans seem to love pastries and sweet breads – pan dulce) or go bigger and local with some huevos smothered in salsa, rancheros or chilaquiles style. We had a great coffee shop called Chiquitito around the corner from our Airbnb in Condesa, where we stopped for cortados, yogurt and croissants on a couple of days. We had a good Mexican style breakfast up the road at El Pendula, a cosy bookshop come cafe.

Mexico City

Mexico City
Mexico City

Lunch is generally the main meal of the day in Mexico and they take it late – around 3pm. One of my favourite lunches was at Cate de mi Corazon, an entirely vegetarian taco place right by our Airbnb in Condesa. Some of the flavours were a bit odd to our palate (such as a sweet jamaica – hibiscus flower – filling) but my enchiladas – stuffed tortillas smothered in red salsa – were really tasty.

Mexico City
Mexico City

Probably the best meal we had of the entire trip was a decadent late lunch at Limosneros, a really beautiful restaurant just south of the Zocalo in Centro. The building dates from the 16th century and the restaurant was started 100 years ago by the current chef’s grandfather. There wasn’t much veggie choice admittedly, but my hibiscus flautas and charred chile and pineapple salad with soft goats’ cheese were absolutely stunning. Josh’s cochinita pibil looked brilliant too. And dessert was peanut butter and jam ice cream! It was a pretty fancy place but the bill was a very reasonable $750/£40.

Mexico City
Mexico City

Before we left the UK we booked dinner at Pujol after reading this New York Times article with Rene Redzepi of Noma. Supposedly the best – and definitely the most expensive – meal in the city, we could only get a booking for early on Tuesday night, the day after we flew in. Unfortunately I was quite disappointed by it overall. It’s undeniably elegant (in a friendly and laid-back kind of way) and they do put on a whole veggie tasting menu and some dishes were great, such as baby corn smoked over wood and served in a hollow pumpkin, but overall it was so rich I was feeling a bit queasy by halfway through and trying to hide how little I could eat. With a whopping £70 a head price tag it was a real shame.

Mexico City

A muuuuch cheaper lunch or dinner option is to grab some antojitos (snacks) from a street vendor, hole in the wall or cafe. They can also taste fantastic if you pick wisely. We had some filling tortas and cold beers in a cute old-school cafe in Centro, and great tacos for $17 a go at Tacos Hola/El Guerro, a tiny place with a few bar stools and pavement tables near our Airbnb on Avenida Amsterdam. He cooks up several different fillings a night, including quite a few veg options, and you can just keep ordering til you’re full.

Mexico City

For drinkin’, the national drink of mezcal is clearly the way to go. We did a mezcal tasting tour in Oaxaca which I’ll write about later (I’m quite the mezcal fact file now) but the local Alipus artisanal mezcal bar was a good place to start. Plus there’s local beer: El Deposito has a great range of local and world craft beers in its few bars dotted over the city. You can buy to take away or drink in.

Mexico City
Mexico City

On a classier note, we had a great night at Licorería Limantour in Roma, one of the world’s 50 best cocktail bars, drinking mezcal cocktails and chatting to the lovely bartender. He sent us on our way with mezcal shots for the road and some recipe cards to take home.

Mexico City
Mexico City

Mexico City
Mexico City

When we weren’t actually eating, one of our favourite things to do was to trawl around the many food markets. One of the best and largest is San Juan, which is right in the kitchen wholesale district just south of the Zocalo and apparently where chefs go to shop. Those morels! Knobbly little squashes! And SO MUCH hot sauce…

Mexico City
Mexico City

There’s good craft and souvenir market at La Ciudadela; we bought some thick blown glass drinking tumblers, $130/£6.50 for six. Oaxaca was the real place to buy crafts though, as I’ll tell you about later.

Mexico sewing stuff

I hunted down some fabric shops, a must-do for me on any trip these days. I wrote more about them on my sewing blog. There seems to be one big fabric shop chain called Parisina are mostly grouped in the streets around Uruguay just south of the Zocalo (there’s a couple in Oaxaca too). Most of the fabrics are pretty gaudy synthetic polys – especially novelty printed fleece and, I suppose especially at this time of year, Day of the Dead and Hallowe’en themed stuff – but there were also some wools, poplins and pretty plaids. It was all dead cheap, mostly ranging from $15/80p to $60/£3 a metre, so a little bit came home with me…

Mexico City

Mexico City
Mexico City

We were woefully under-researched on our other favourite pastime, flea markets, but luckily snuck a great one in on our very last Saturday morning before catching the bus to Oaxaca. It snaked right around the Jardin Pushkin near the eastern end of Avenida Alvaro Obregon and contained a great range of goodies from vintage videogame cartridges to dead-stock stationery. It was pretty expensive, making me think it’s more of a collectors market than bargain flea. I only came home with a little tin for 100 pesos.

Mexico City

We actually did pop to another flea in between our flight back from Oaxaca and the connecting flight to London the following Saturday, at Plaza del Angel. This is a little indoor mall full of antiques shops, which on the weekend spill their wares onto the walkways for a flea-style experience. There was a lot of fun stuff, from vintage film posters to tiny toy sewing machines (how did I resist?) and prices were reasonable. I bought a little ceramic owl for the collection and some paper ephemera.

Mexico City

In terms of non-market shopping, Avenida Amsterdam in Condesa has a bunch of nice boutiques (as well as restaurants and bars) and is a lovely leafy area to wander around. Avenida Alvaro Obregon and Calle Comida in Roma are good to check out foody delis and little vintage shops. We even found a hipster yard sale in full swing on Saturday, and now I’m wondering why London boot sales don’t come complete with artisanal g&t and bagel stands.

Mexico City

My favourite find was a tiny boutique off Av Alvaro Obregon called Ursa Minor, which the owner has beautifully curated with homewares and crafted items from local designers. We bought a mini skull artwork handpainted on wood, some pretty ceramics, and some other little gifts.

All these places – plus a bunch more places we didn’t get the chance to make it to – are on my Google map and Foursquare list.

¡Hola, Mexico!

Mexico

We’re back from two weeks in Mexico – tanned, tired and well padded out with cheese and chocolate. We spent a week in Mexico City and a week in Oaxaca – it was really good to see perhaps two extremes of the same country. Here’s a first bunch of photos and my thoughts on our first stop, Mexico City.

Mexico

We were almost put off Mexico City (known locally as DF, District Federal) before going, with the consensus being it’s too big, crowded, hectic and completely impenetrable for a short visit. Luckily I didn’t find that to be the case at all. I think that was partly the neighbourhood we stayed in, Condesa, and the lovely Airbnb we called temporary home (this one) which was a great base to return to and chill out for a bit in between scampering around. Condesa is a really nice quiet area, but with loads of restaurants, bars, shops and cafes. It borders the more buzzy Roma and Zona Rosa and isn’t too far from the historical centre either. It reminded me of London in the way each neighbourhood has a distinct vibe so you can choose where to hang out based on your mood. The Chilangos (inhabitants of DF) also reminded me of Londoners – they’ll generally stay out of your way but be friendly and helpful if you’re looking for it.

Mexico
Mexico

One thing that really surprised me was how green a city it is. There are lush tropical planted parks every few blocks which break up the concrete. Mexico City is pretty pleasant to take in on foot once you get used to the uneven pavements and, er, unorthodox approach to traffic lights and pedestrian crossings (we quickly learned to just go when a local crosses!). It’s very clean in terms of litter and it felt safe to walk around areas like Condesa and Roma after dark. Plus the weather in mid-late October was in the mid-20s, perfect for wandering around.

Mexico

Other options for longer trips include taxis and the metro. Taxis are very cheap and safe as long as you book them from the ranks situated every couple of blocks – $100/£5 will get you anywhere in the centre. The Metro is even cheaper – at $4/20p it’s amongst the cheapest in the world – and generally a safe bet. On the downside, it got hot and sticky at peak time (5-6pm and onward) and also had a tendency to make long stops with no announcements as to what’s going on. There are women and children only carriages at the front of every train but I didn’t feel the need to use them. There are also buses and hire bikes, which we didn’t try. I’ll show some of the other areas we visited a bit later on.

Mexico
Mexico
Mexico
Mexico
Mexico
Mexico

Like Ecuador and Panama, there’s colour everywhere, from handpainted signs to ornately tiled buildings.

Mexico
Mexico
Mexico
Mexico

Food is everywhere too, at all hours! Street food shacks and carts on ever corner offering every variety of corn + meat + cheese you can imagine – I’m now well-versed in telling a memelita from a tlayuda. If you were on a budget you could eat street food three times a day for about $50 pesos (£2.50). The pound is pretty strong right now, which made everything seem pretty bargainous to us anyway. We ate a vast variety of amazing food, from 50p street tacos to allegedly the highest-end restaurant in Mexico – I’ll post more about my favourites. We even found veggie restaurants! In fact eating veggie there was really quite easy: a fondness for cheese will definitely help though.

Mexico
Mexico
Mexico
Mexico

Another highlight for me was the volume of markets – my idea of heaven is walking around a fresh produce market; even if I can’t buy the fruit and veg I love to see what’s available and how deliciously vibrant it all looks. Plus of course there’s all manner of stuff we could bring home, like dried chillies, hot sauce, chocolate and crafts… I’ll write some more about specific markets later.

Mexico

Lots more to come soon on what we saw, did and ate!

Design & Wonder at the V&A

V&A

I went to the V&A on Monday with my sister, ostensibly to check out some of the London Design Festival installations and exhibitions. But, box of wonders that it is, we ended up having a good root around some of its other corners – there’s always something new to find and admire.

V&A

My sister works at the V&A so it’s especially great to visit with her and be given a guided tour of some of the more hidden areas and her personal favourites.

V&A
V&A

I love Cornelia Parker’s work; ‘Breathless’, an arrangement of flattened brass instruments, sits in a double-height circular space allowing you to view it from above or below.

V&A

A 16th century ‘soundboard’ complete with a dazzling array of semi-precious stones.

V&A

Beautifully ornate floral chair

V&A

Canova’s Three Graces

V&A

A collection of puzzle jugs nestled in the ceramics galleries. I like how the V&A isn’t all priceless and important antiquities, there’s plenty of quirk in there too.

V&A
V&A
V&A
V&A
V&A
V&A

The contemporary ceramics gallery; many contenders here for my favourite game of ‘what would I take home with me given the choice’. I think today’s winner would be those gorgeous geometric vases or the perky pigeons.

Here’s some of the actual design festival stuff. I liked how it was dotted throughout the museum like a treasure hunt, with most pieces thoughtfully playing off the permanent exhibits nearby.

V&A

‘Ama’ by Michael Anastassiades, a tribute to Japanese pearl-diving women.

V&A

‘Double Space’ by designers Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby, two huge reflective structures resembling plane wings which slowly rotate around the ceiling of the Raphael Gallery, reflecting the vast cartoons.

V&A

‘Candela’ by Felix de Pass, Michael Montgomery and Ian McIntyre; a hypnotic rotating disc with light projections set up in the dim tapestry gallery.

V&A

Zaha Hadid’s ‘Crest’ across the garden’s pool.

V&A

We spotted Paul Smith and Terence Conran posing outside ‘Paul’s Shed’ by Nathalie de Leval. Cate has some pics of the inside of the shed.

V&A
Patchwork dress

The marble staircase made a pretty backdrop for my newest handmade dress too!

The Design Festival runs until the 21st Sept, so there’s still time to get down there and have look at it all.

A trip to Oxford

Oxford

I had the opportunity to take a little trip to Oxford last weekend. It’s always nice to have an excuse to see a new corner of the UK, and Oxford did not disappoint. It reminded me quite a lot of Bath, with the grand golden stone Georgian buildings, unspoilt high street and leafy avenues.

Oxford
Oxford

Oxford

I was pleased to find it quite compact and easy to get around by foot – my preferred method of exploring any new city. On arriving we (I went with my sister) walked from the train station to our hotel via the high street, taking in the covered market on the way. It was a Sunday so not everything was open, but as it was the bank holiday weekend it was quite busy with people anyway.

Oxford
Oxford
Oxford
Oxford
Oxford

We took a detour around some of the many university buildings dotted around the city, and the grand Bodleian Library. Can you imagine being a student here… in my head it’d be like a cross between Harry Potter (parts of which were filmed here) and the Secret History.

Oxford

Found a sewing shop, but it was closed – darn it, indeed :(

Oxford

We went to the Foodies Festival for lunch, which was quite small and non-eclectic by London market standards but I found a tasty samosa chat to eat, followed by tasty Purbecks ice cream as it was a nice warm day.

Oxford

Oxford is filled with meadows and streams (mostly owned by the colleges but open to the public), which makes for some lovely serene walking routes. We meandered up to the north of the city…

Oxford

…to the Natural History and Pitt Rivers museums. Both in the same building, the Pitt Rivers is an anthropology museum, which rather reminded me of some of the museums I went to in Ecuador as it carries much of the same ceramics, totems and textiles.

Oxford
Oxford

Oxford

Quite taken with this inuit outfit, reindeer skin codpiece and all.

Oxford
Oxford

Sewing stuff!

Oxford
Oxford
Oxford

In the Natural History museum part, I mostly enjoyed the animal skeletons and these beautiful mineral samples.

Oxford

Oxford
Oxford

We took another pre-dinner stroll down the canal, meeting a sweet kitty on the way.

Oxford
Oxford

We had a really nice dinner at Jamie’s Italian – I hadn’t been to one before but was impressed, would go back to try more as there were plenty of veggie options.

Oxford
Oxford

The next day was the bank holiday Monday and as is traditional, was pissing with rain. We popped back to the Bodleian to have a look inside – only the reading room was open but it was pretty stunning.

Oxford
Oxford
Oxford

We dodged the rain the rest of the morning at the Ashmolean Museum which was luckily open. There’s loads to see – again, owls and textiles mostly caught my eye – so it definitely provided a good diversion until the train home. At only an hour from London, what a nice city to have a little staycation in.

My trip was sponsored by the Mercure Eastgate Hotel, Oxford. Thank you!