Travel Weekly MEXICO CITY Fam Trip - 08/02/2015

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! Last day of the whirlwind tour. Again up at 7 and in the bus. This time to the St Regis Mexico City. One word: Oh My Gawd! What a beautiful hotel. What an awesome location. It happened that Team Ferrari was having a little demonstration, leading up to the Formula One coming to Mexico City in November. The hotel is right on the Paseo de la Reforma, at the start/finish line. So, you know...TRAFFIC. Fortunately, our guides from Tourism Mexico had some pull, so they moved roadblocks for us to get right to the hotel. Did I mention the St Regis is beautiful? The suites overlooking Reforma will be the most awesome place to watch the race. And only $650-$950/night! A great gym/spa, a kids club, several restaurants, very large, very well appointed suites, etc. I am saving my SPG points for a return there. By far the nicest hotel we checked out. And the others were all excellent. After the site inspection we had a quick breakfast. I had some Huevos Rancheros. Excellent. And then back on the bus, around some roadblocks and off to the Palacio de Bellas Artes for a performance of the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. This is the Amalia Hernandez-formed troupe. She pretty much invented the modern form. Which was truly outstanding. For those of you not familiar, the Ballet Folklorico is a collection of folk dances and/or folk tales set to dance, representing different periods of Mexican history, and the various regions of the country. Many are fairly familiar, like the Veracruzano wedding dance, set to La Bamba, or the Mexican Hat Dance. I have seen more than a couple folklorico troupes in my time. This one was the most comprehensive, ever. The show was nearly two hours, and exciting every minute. Oh, and the building itself, the Palacio, was stunningly beautiful. Built in the 1930's, the exterior is Neo Classical, and the interior pure Art Deco. Murals by, among others, Diego Rivera. Giant skylights. Marble everything. So, that was a great way to end the trip. And we did. From the Ballet Folklorico we headed to the airport and home. Thus ends my story. I would like to thank everyone who helped make this trip possible. I would do names, but I'd forget someone and hurt their feelings. So, suffice it to say - the wonderful people at Travel Weekly and TOWMAR, the publisher of Travel Weekly in Mexico, the good folks from the Mexican Tourism Board, and last but not least, our bus driver. What a job, because TRAFFIC. THANK YOU ALL! and, again, if you're ready to pack your bags and head to Mexico City, give us a call at 760.265.3687. We got the connections and the recent experience to put together a great trip for you!


Travel Weekly MEXICO CITY Fam Trip - 08/01/2015

And on Saturday, they let us sleep in. Til 7am! WootWoot! Seriously, rolled out, ran across the street to Starbucks, came back and headed over to the JW by Marriott for breakfast and another hotel inspection. Very nice property, very nice breakfast. We then headed across town to some big marketplace deal in Distrito San Angel. Because, you know...SHOPPING! MEXICO! Okay, for realsies, I did have a bit of fun walking around the square and thru the plazas. There was some nice artwork on display, but nothing I could bring home with me. I did pick up a few souvenirs, though. And I did have a great time with some of the other agents. One lady (actually 1000, but only one we fell for) was selling these cool toothpick thingies. Three of us bought some. Later, as we sat down in a little bistro for a drink and to wait for lunch, she was standing in front of us. So, we started telling all the other agents they had to buy some too. I think probably 10 or 12 did, finally (including a couple who had to borrow pesos from me, as they were spent out by then). So that was fun. We then went in to Fonda San Angel for lunch. I honestly don't know if it just suffered by comparison, but the lunch there seemed uninspired. Nothing BAD, but nothing to write home about, either. As I said...maybe just because everywhere else we ate was so good. After lunch we started back across town to Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo's house and museum. We were supposed to go to the Anahuacalli Museum as well, but TRAFFIC. We actually didn't have enough time at Casa Azul, by the time we finally got there...but we did go in and take a look around. Cool place. I got in trouble for taking pictures. Because I'm obnoxious that way. No, really. One of the other agents did too. I didn't see the sign. When I did, I stopped. Well, I went to the other areas where it was ok. So, yeah...got to cross that off the list. And then head back to the hotel for a minute and a half before heading to dinner. Dinner was at Azul Historico, a restaurant in the lobby of the Downtown Hotel. A really cool property near the Zocalo. An old palace, across the street from the Casino Espana. Both 18th Century buildings. The Front doors are about 20' tall and 6" thick of wood and iron. As the bus was dropping us off, across the street at the Casino Espana (no longer a casino, but THE place for receptions, quinceanaras and the like) was a line of men in evening dress and ladies in formal attire. Quite glam. But, to dinner! We started with a cheese soup that was incredible. Tomato based, and filled with chunks of Oaxaca cheese (kind of mozzarella-y in it's stringy melted state), seasoned with primarily oregano. Almost a pizza in a bowl. But gluten-free. And then the nicest piece of ribeye steak I've had in some time, over a chipotle sauce that was FABOLOSO! I am usually a purist on steak, forgoing sauces, but this one I was wiping the plate to get every drop. After dinner we took a tour of the hotel. Very large rooms. And a great location. However, there is a night club there too, and I am not sure the non-party animals would deal well with the noise. For the younger crowd that's not going to bed until 2am anyway, it would be great. Just as we finished that, we looked outside to the street and saw a drag parade coming down. Apparently something they do on the 1st of every month. Maybe 150 people, at least half men in drag. At the end of the block, they all crowded around and some were putting on various shows, including a fire dancer. Quite the mob scene. And quite a contrast from the crowd going in to the Casino a couple hours earlier. But, an interesting end to an interesting day! Back to the hotel 11ish. In bed 11:15ish. and HASTA LUEGO. tomorrow i'll tell you all about the Ballet Folklorico..the 2nd best part of the trip, after the hot air balloon.


Travel Weekly MEXICO CITY Fam Trip - 07/31/2015

And my wake up call came at 5am, just as I was pouring my first cup of coffee. It was nice of them to leave a wake up for me, though. Headed downstairs, got on the bus and hit the highway for Teotihuacan. When we got to the ballooning center they were just starting to inflate about a dozen balloons. Apparently, this is a real popular thing. I soon found out why. We loaded up 8 of us and took to the sky. You could see the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon in the distance. Our pilot took us pretty low over the town leading to the ruins. Then way up! I'm going to say 2000' or so. Sadly it was a little foggy, so the view was maybe not as spectacular as it would be on a clearer morning, but still. Fabulous. As we got to the pyramids, we dropped back down to a hundred feet or so above the Pyramid of the Sun, and then floated serenely over the whole site. Besides the Pyramids, there are ruins of the houses/temples/marketplaces/whatever. And a great view of how they controlled water flowing through with a series of diked terraces with gates to allow draining and filling. I thought it might be for agricultural purposes, but they assured me it was to bring in fresh water and let out waste water. Very cool. All in all, it was one of the neatest hours I've spent in a long time. After landing, we headed to the Hotel Villas Arqueológicas Teotihuacán for breakfast. Which was served al fresco in the courtyard overlooking the pool. By far the most serene setting of the trip (Mexico City is a lot of things, but quiet is not one of them). We did a quick tour of the hotel, which is definitely on my list of places to return, and then to the Teotihuacan site. There we were led by a very knowledgeable guide, who explained what was what. And I climbed the first half built pyramid. In my defense, it was quite hot and humid, so I took a pass on climbing the Pyramid of the Sun. I think only 6 or 7 of the 23 agents with me did that. But we did stroll the whole length of the site and then headed to lunch at La Gruta (the Grotto). Which is just that. A restaurant inside a cave. Very cool. The cave is mostly in to a hillside, so it's not far down below ground level. Maybe 30 feet. And there are a couple of natural skylights to illuminate the place (as well as a couple dozen candles on the wall at one end. Lunch there was AWESOME. No other word for it. A great tortilla soup, and then a combo plate with a taco, mole poblano, carne Tampiquena and a tamalito. All very tasty. And finished with a corn cake desert. yum. Oh, yeah...between the ruins and lunch we stopped at a silver factory/gift store. To be quite honest, not my favorite. Our host spend way too much time explaining the proper way to drink tequila, which is fine unless you don't drink tequila. And the prices in the store were borderline outrageous. But, yeah...the good with the bad. Anyway, so, after lunch we hit the road and got back to the City about 5:30. Took a bit of a break before heading to Villa Maria for dinner. Villa Maria's claim to fame is daiquiris and margaritas served in glasses the size of a Buick. I had them whip me up a virgin daiquiri and proceeded to give myself about 26 freeze heads in the course of the evening. One of our hosts from Travel Weekly Mexico, Cesar, was having his wedding anniversary, and instead of taking the night off, decided to bring his wife to the restaurant. Which was good of him, and her. Dinner at Villa Maria started with an appetizer of sope and quesadilla, and then a carne de res (steak) in a green chile/cilantro sauce. That was way tasty. Desert was some sweet, bready concoction that I am finding hard to describe. But it was good. And so back to the hotel and some much needed sleep. Again, some people made a half-hearted attempt to explore the nightlife, but most of us decided a 17 hour day was enough. I'll be back tomorrow with the scoop on Saturday's events. In the meantime, there is lots of video and still pics of the balloon ride, and all the good food on my page at wwfacebook.com/daveholmantravel. Feel free to check them out. And friend me, if you wish. Also, if you are already dying to go to Mexico City, drop me a line at daveholman@verizon.net or call 760.265.3687 Hasta Manana! http://youtu.be/jCT5Rip08pA


Travel Weekly MEXICO CITY Fam Trip - 07/30/2015

Hit the road at 2am to get to LAX.  Amazingly, there was no traffic, so I was there early.  Sat around for an hour waiting for the AeroMexico check in to open.  They showed up promptly at 4:25, mas o menos.

Got all checked in, and headed to the concourse to get some coffee, but Starbucks wasn't open yet.  Standing on line, the 3 flight attendants were right behind me, so I chatted them up for a few minutes.  When they opened, I got my coffee and handed the barrista a twenty and told her to get the next 3, on me (the flight attendants).  Boarding the plane about 20 minutes later, a flight attendant asked me if I wanted to move up to the premium coach seats at the bulkhead.  So that was a good move.  Leg room for yards and yards.

I deliberately picked this flight because it was on one of AM's new 737's with the Sky Interior (basically it's all the good stuff from a 787 Dreamliner, like indirect lighting and better carryon storage and what not, as well as 9inch monitors at every seat).  Beautiful plane.  Doesn't even feel like a narrow body.  And with the extra legroom, I was pretty comfy.  Dozed off before takeoff.   Then we got in the air, and had a turkey croissant and some fresh fruit and yogurt for breakfast.  Something you don't see much on domestic airlines these days.  Certainly not an a 4 hour flight.  So, the flight was uneventful, and promptly at 12:15 we landed in Mexico City.  The airport was not too zoo-like, but yeah...Immigration, then Customs, then finally out the door to be greeted by the shuttle rep.  He told me we were waiting for some 1:30 flights, and to meet him back there, then.  Which was perfect.  Gave me time to wander the airport, get a bit of lunch and make some calls.  When I went back we hopped in a van and headed over to Terminal 1 to pick up the others, and had an interesting drive from MEX to our hotel, El Presidente Intercontinental.  First off, traffic is horrendous, everywhere at all times.  Rather like Los Angeles.  Possibly worse.  Secondly, the driver made no attempt to route us through the nicer areas.  We plowed through quite a variety, from the pretty sketchy slums near the airport, on to our Polanco district, with its Bentley and Rolls Royce dealerships. 

Got checked in to the Presidente, and it was very very nice.  Rooms were decent size and had a huge window overlooking the Auditorio Nacional and Chapultepec Park, the biggest greenway in the city.  Akin to a Central Park view in NYC.

Chilled out for a bit, got unpacked, and it was time for a reception and dinner.  There were some tasty tapas at the reception.  Little tostadas with pulpo (octopus), quesadillas, sopes that were quite good.  And then on the first of several outstanding meals.  Dinner began with Ensalada de Texturas.  Greens with mango, almond, tomato, cucumber and some sort of queso fresco.  So you had sweet, salty and acid, as well as crunchy, crispy and creamy.  Really, a diverse little party in your mouth.  The entrée was a tilapia filet, smothered in a creamy adobo and topped with sauted spinach.  Again, quite tasty.  Oh, and it was at this point someone finally asked about the salt.  They had a marble tray with plain salt, a reddish colored salt, and salt with some sort of black flaky things in it.  I thought they were some sort of flower bud or hip or something.  Turns out that was Sal con Hormigas (ants).  Yeah, dried ants.  The other was salt with chiles arboles.  The ant thing threw a couple people, but, frankly, I couldn't really taste any difference.  I kept using it.  And for desert was a Bunuelo covered in what they called meringue, but I would say was crème fraiche, almonds and a sweet crumble.  A tad cloying for those of us who don't really dig sugar.  But nicely presented.

So, after dinner a few people made half-hearted attempts to organize some night lifing, but frankly, we were all tired from flying and looking forward to a 5am wake up call so we could head out to Teotihuacan for a sunrise balloon flight.  Which was AMAZING!  And which I will tell you all about in the next installment!

Adios mi amigos!