Oaxaca, Mexico: Architecture

Oaxaca street

So, in my last post I showed you some food from our trip to Oaxaca, and here I wanted to show you a little of the town and surroundings. Excuse me if I’m a little picture happy. It was hard to choose.

Above is a street in Oaxaca, to give you an idea of the town. This street happens to be a pedestrian only zone, though I guess bench-sitters get a pass, too. Hey, if I could sit on a comfy pink bench on this street right now, I would.

Below is the Santo Domingo church. Georgeous. Love the landscaping out front, too.

Santo Domingo church, Oaxaca

And I’ve fallen hard for the church’s stone walls. The subtle color variations (and size variations, which you can see less well) are making me so, so happy. I think I’m going to have to use that colorway and grid pattern somewhere.

Stone Block Wall

Up next, a convent-turned-hotel. The walls are literally three feet thick. It’s a total dream. I have a thing for thick walls and courtyard gardens.

Convent hotel

Here and there, on the former convent walls, you’ll see little bits of painting:

Floral border

Wall painting

Rose painting

And lastly, just outside Oaxaca are the pyramids of Monte Alban. From the top, the view of the area is breathtaking.

Monte Alban

Monte Alban dandelions

I’d love to show you some of the handicrafts Oaxaca is famous for, but I think I’ll have to show you after Christmas, since several that I bought are gifts for others.

Up next, hopefully I’ll have time to post a few Christmas-themed items. I’ve been trying to be really nose-to-the-grindstone on my writing projects. Back to work for me! Be well.

Oaxaca, Mexico: Food

Ancho Chile Relleno

So, the secret destination I mentioned earlier was Oaxaca (say “wah-HOCK-ah”), Mexico. I love this city! I had visited once 15 years ago and always dreamed of going back.

The capital city of the state of Oaxaca, it’s like a jewel-box deep in heart of the southern mountains of Mexico, full of stunning architecture, intricate handicrafts, and oh yes, fantastic food.

The top photo was my first meal there, an ancho chile relleno next to plaintain mash with Oaxacan cheese. Surprisingly, it was actually a lot prettier than it was flavorful, but I enjoyed trying it anyway.

Below are the appetizers from that night, including, from the back of the slate platter, cheese, guacamole, and chapulinas. Chapulinas are a Oaxacan specialty—roasted grasshoppers!

Chapulinas

Our Mexican friends told us that if you eat one, it means you get to come back to Oaxaca. It would be a lie to say they’re my favorite dish, but I was super glad I DID eat one 15 years ago. So glad, in fact, that I ate several more, hoping I will for sure get to visit again.

Below you see chiles drying at a restaurant where we ate lunch. The set up was unusual—you walk through the kitchen area up to the roof to eat. Sadly I didn’t take pics of the wonderful chicken red mole enchiladas I had.

Mole is a type of sauce involving many ingredients, including cocoa, which was first cultivated in ancient Mesoamerica. There are many different kinds of mole, and they’re not at all sweet, so don’t worry, it’s not at all like eating candy on your meat.

From the rooftop of the lunch restaurant, there’s a view of the historic Santo Domingo church, and we had great seats to see a traditional wedding celebration going out of the church, complete with dancers, costumes, and these enormous puppets that lead the way to the reception.

Chiles

Lastly, here’s a photo (from the same location) of Caldo de Piedra, or “Stone Soup.” I couldn’t actually eat it, since I can’t do shellfish, but it was fascinating to watch our chef cook it, tableside.

The rocks were heated to such a high degree that when they were placed in the bowls of raw food (shellfish and broth, veggies), the liquid immediately boiled like mad. After a few moments, the liquid cooled a bit, and the chef removed the first stones and added a second hot stone to each bowl.

Caldo de Piedra

If you look closely, you can see the beautiful handcarving on the bowls, which are made of what I gather is a kind of gourd.

Delicious foods not pictured: duck tacos, Oaxacan tamales (wrapped in banana leaves), hot chocolate, and eggs smothered in fantastic sauces. Breakfast was not to be missed.

More on Oaxaca to come. Hope you have a great weekend. It’s like 75 degrees here today. I can’t believe it’s December!

Vintage Vacation Postcards

postcards-001

Above is a little summary of our New England vacation. A little Cape, a lot of New Hampshire, including a hike through the Flume Gorge, which I had never seen before. I was tickled to find these in a little shop in Bethlehem, NH. I love when old postcards come with messages on them. The bottom one was written by someone whose vacation mirrored ours, fifty some years ago.

I have lots to share, including some digital paintings I did while we were away. I finally finished Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re an introvert or have a loved one who is. There are lots of us, so you probably do! I learned a lot.

Hubs and I enjoyed listening to Rob Lowe’s memoir Stories I Only Tell My Friends on our car trip (read by Lowe), and we’ve almost finished listening to Yes, Chef, a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson. Really fascinating and read by Samuelsson himself in his fabulous scratchy voice. His story begins in Ethiopia, then goes on to Sweden, throughout Europe, and on to New York City as he follows his dream of becoming a master chef.

Loved this post of fun summer things to do with your kids, by Blair Stocker of wisecraft. Also, this spaghetti monsters post over at elsiemarley made me smile—it’s part cooking, part craft, and all silly fun.

What have you been up to?

Luebeck, Germany: Queen of the Hanse

I’d been wanting to go to Lübeck for a long time, ever since I read that it’s the former capital of the Hanseatic League, a city-state trade alliance existing during the 13th-17th centuries. More about the Hanseatic League here. I’d love to read more about the league, so if you know any good books about it, give me a shout.

Lübeck is such a quiet, relaxed place now, it’s hard to imagine it as the center of trade in this part of Europe. One of our favorite parts about the city is its canal encircling the Altstadt (old town). Hannover used to have one of these, too, but it’s long since been filled in.

Above is a photo of the Holstentor, which is the city gate and a famous German landmark. Below you see the entrance to the puppet museum, which, sadly, we didn’t have the chance to visit. Love the little guy, though.

Below is a glimpse of Lübeck’s “crown.” When you see all the city’s lovely pointy towers and steeples together, they look like a crown. The white building is the Rathaus or city hall.

My favorite feature is the round holes.

In addition to its history and the distinctive brickwork, Lübeck is known for its Gänge (walkways) and Höfe (courtyards). According to Lonely Planet, during the Middle Ages there was a lack of housing for the many artisans and craftspeople in Lübeck. So rows of smaller homes were built for them behind existing homes. Walkways were built to connect them to the street. People still live in these areas, and you can peek in to get a glimpse.

Here’s one of the courtyards:

And one of the walkways from the street:

You can easily miss the entrances if you don’t look carefully.

Lastly, a yellow building I loved—-I guess they couldn’t agree on which yellow to use.

Lübeck is also known for its marzipan, which comes in every shape imaginable. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures to show you of it, but do be sure to try some if you go.

I’m quickly getting sucked into the vortex that is the overseas move. Hopefully I can make some more posts in our last weeks, but we’ll have to see. I have so much to share if I can just find the time. Have a great weekend!

Inspired by Granada

Granada really captured my imagination, and I’m not the first. The city’s ancient Moorish palace, the Alhambra, was brought to worldwide attention by American author Washington Irving, who stayed there briefly in 1829. Yes, that’s Washington Irving of Sleepy Hollow fame. Read more about the Alhambra’s history, starting in the 9th century, here.

After his visit to Granada, Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra, which sparked interest in the beautiful, crumbling building complex. Fifty years later (it wasn’t the age of the internet, after all), the movement to restore the Alhambra had begun.

Nice to hear about an American writer doing something good abroad!

It’s easy to see why he was so inspired. I found myself wanting to move into the Alhambra. While the castles in northern Europe are impressive in their own right, the Moorish palace made me want to hang out on a chaise lounge, write a novel, and throw a party when the sun went down.

A good spot for a window seat, no?

This was one of my favorite views of the Alhambra (there in the distance). This tower in the foreground, we discovered, is an 11th century minaret, the only remains of a mosque that was destroyed after Isabella and Ferdinand’s army conquered Granada. As in many places, a church was built right where the mosque stood.

It seems to be fairly common that one minaret was left when a mosque was destroyed (for instance, you see it also at Seville’s cathedral). If anyone knows more about the story behind that, I’d be interested to know.

As one of the last holdouts of the Moors, the whole city of Granada has a very strong Moorish influence. The ancient Muslim Albayzin quarter is particularly fascinating, with its maze-like cobbled paths and tangle of ancient white-stone buildings. And as I mentioned before, the food was great!

I threw some more Spain pictures up on my flickr gallery, so hop over there if you like. I went gaga over the tilework at the Alhambra and at the palace in Seville, the Alcazar. Sooo gorgeous! And I kept thinking: quilts, quilts, quilts!  So many ideas, so little time.

Travel Tip: if you’re interested in seeing the Alhambra, make sure you book tickets well in advance via the Alhambra website. We did book ahead but we still had some difficulty getting them—-luckily my husband’s Spanish saved us, but the process needs some working out of kinks. Also, take your smart phone—there’s a free app you can download on site. We didn’t bring ours so didn’t get to try it.

Next up you’ll be hearing from author Louise Hawes about using dreams in your writing. Can’t wait!

Traveling by Table through Andalusia

Do you try new foods when you travel? One of my favorite ways to check out a new place is to eat my way through it.

It wasn’t hard to do in southern Spain, where there are so many delights. For example, gazpacho:

My goal with gazpacho was pretty much to eat it at nearly every restaurant, until I really couldn’t eat it anymore. I mean, where else can you go where gazpacho is on every menu? You can eat it in a bowl or, like here, drink it in a glass. You can also eat a thick version, like a dip, though I have to say that was not my thing. This was one of my favorite gazpachos, at Bar Manolo in Seville at Plaza Alfalfa.They had the most awesome cheap tapas. Loved the outdoor cafe culture in Seville. It has such a fun, laid-back feeling.

Another quest was churros. We had trouble with this one, since churros are really a morning thing, or a break-of-dawn-after-late-partying thing, and we never seemed to motivate to go churro-hunting until the afternoon.

We finally found an all-day churros place in Seville and grabbed some right before dinner. Perfect timing, eh? Not really, but who cares?

Have mercy! Fried dough gets me every time. You break them off and dip them in the thick hot chocolate. Ayiiiii!!

Granada had a whole different batch of flavors to try. You’ve got the North African/ Middle Eastern influence going on. I had some fantastic falafel and hummus, which I forgot to photograph. Also, there was LOTS o’ mint. Like this mint tea, served all over town, always in a silver teapot with a painted glass:

That green thing poking out of the pot is mint. Yeah.

Granada was also the site of the best mojito ever. It had absolute loads of mint and lime. It was almost like a limeade, which maybe is why I liked it so much. Those green flecks you see are shredded mint leaves.

 Also had some yummy sweets from a Granada bakery. An orange spice cake:

These are some baklava-type pastries with different fillings. The top one I think had pistachios while the second was filled with sesame.

By the time we left, the kids were reminding me to take photos of everything we ate. Sadly I forgot a few beauties, though. Not pictured: sea bass baked under a mountain of sea salt, Spanish tortilla (a bit like a potato omelette or frittata), chicken curry on couscous, plenty of Serrano ham, and olives, olives, olives. I was never much of an olive eater before Spain. It’ll do that to you.

What about you? Have you discovered any new foods while traveling? Things you just had to recreate back home?

For more of my travels, click here. A bit more on Spain to come.

Flamenco in Mijas, Spain

On our recent trip through Andalusia, Mijas (“MEE-haass”) was a highlight. One of the lovely white towns (so-called because of their white buildings) Mijas has great food, donkey and horse rides, and best of all, a Wednesday noontime flamenco performance.

The electricity of flamenco is contagious. These dancers and musicians are true artists. If we’d spent any more time in Spain, I seriously would’ve had to sign up for flamenco lessons (you can, by the way, do this). The performance made me want to hop up and do some serious DANCING!

Here’s a view of Mijas from the hill—-you can see why it’s called a “white town.”

On another day we happened upon the flamenco floor of a department store. “Happened upon”—who am I kidding? Once I heard there was such a thing as a “flamenco department” I was making a beeline. Ahhh….heaven!

Talk about serious artistry. All handmade. One of these babies will set you back around 500 euros or more. I couldn’t QUITE justify the money. But we did get a cheapo version for Little Miss.

I think I’ve got to learn some flamenco sewing techniques now. So far the internet hasn’t been all that helpful, so shout if you know any tricks.

More on Spain to come. For more on our travels around Europe, just click on the “Travel” category on the right.

Currently reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a recommendation from my husband. I’m still not a total e-book lover, but it WAS awesome to be able to pull up The Sun Also Rises,W. Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra, and The Big House by Carolyn Coman while in Spain. I love traveling by book and car/plane at the same time.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Sunday Stroll in Bologna

The weather was great on a recent Sunday in Bologna. I had a great time poking in and out of corners and taking it all in.

A gorgeous flower shop… and some of the towers Bologna is famous for

and some famous Bolognese foods!

One of the city’s lovely porticoes

Sorry I’ve been scarce lately. Between travel and working on my novel, it’s been tough to make time to post, but I have lots to share. See you back here soon.

Mallorca: Photo Journal

Here are a few highlights from our October trip to Mallorca, off the coast of Spain. While it’s definitely been built up in a touristy way, Mallorca is truly a beautiful island, and there are lots of treasures to find. Like these:

You would not believe this bird park. We totally stumbled across it—-it was literally across the street from our hotel, but clearly other visitors had made a pilgrimage. There were some serious birders hefting cannon-sized cameras and telescopes. Unfortunately we didn’t really know what birds we were seeing, but we loved it all the same. The marshy setting is spectacular, and at several points there are hides, which are kind of like little dugouts from which you can watch birds unnoticed. Cool, eh? 

 

Alcudia was the nearest “old” town near our hotel, so we went there a lot, exploring the ruins of the Roman wall and enjoying Mallorcan variety fried-in-front-of-you donuts.

Below is one of my favorite finds in Alcudia. Can you just imagine what’s behind this door?

I also loved poking through the market.

I’ve never been a huge olive fan, but when you’re in Spain, it’s practically a sin not to eat them, and I became a bit of a convert. I’d never seen virgin olives in the flesh before.

Mallorca seems like a dream now that the weather has turned bitterly cold.

Newsflash! I finally finished the Cuppa Cuppa duvet cover. Hoping to photograph it soon for you. Now inching along with this patchwork project. I’ve  also picked up a knitting project from five years ago that I had given up on. Five years! Has it really been five years?! Hope springs eternal.

Meanwhile, my YA novel is also inching along in revision.

Have a great weekend!

That Berlin Buzz

What a hip, creative vibe Berlin has. Like a really smooth espresso—cranks you up but doesn’t make you jumpy.

I was there in July and wished I could bottle the buzz and take it with me. It made me want to write, paint, photograph, disco!

Twenty years after the reunion of East and West Germany, Berlin is still re-inventing itself. It’s bustling with construction: here’s a photo taken from the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), with a view of all the cranes going outside it:

One of my favorite spots this visit was the dome of the Reichstag, the home of the German parliament (the first shot above is looking up through the open dome).

The original dome, which was destroyed during World War II, was also glass and steel (see below), but the current one (below the original) looks like something from The Phantom Menace.

File:Reichstagsgebaeude.jpg

File:Berlin reichstag west panorama 2.jpg

Look inside the dome in the next photo. It’s actually open to the elements, so snow and rain enter the center column (the part that looks like a mirrored tornado) and get recycled.

The glass dome is meant to be symbolic of transparency in the present-day German government. But it also struck me as such a symbol of the city and of modern Germany itself. The über-eco space-age cupola joined with the damaged historic building feels like what Berlin is all about.

The New York Times had a debate recently about where young Hemingway would go to live in 2011. Paris again? London? Two debaters (of five or so) voted for Berlin, and I’d cast my vote for Berlin, too. It’s a magnet for creatives these days in part because it’s much more affordable than other big cities.

Holly Becker of decor8 recently wrote a post about creatives living in Berlin. She highlights a German website, Freunde von Freunden that gives sneak peeks into artists’ homes.

For some fascinating photography of historic Berlin (and other European) sites, check out this post by annekata post here. She highlights the work of two photographers who specialize in merging war-time and modern photographs. The effect is mind-blowing.

(Sadly, annekata is no longer blogging, but she’s left up her posts, which are chock-full of inspiration).

Below is a shot from an East Berlin neighborhood where we visited an old family friend. The whole place was hopping with energy and a sense of humor.

For everyone who’s been wondering where I’ve been, I’m back. We’ve done lots of traveling this summer, and I hope to share some more about that soon. The kids are both back in school as of today.

If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about my travels within Germany, check out these posts:

Chillin’ at the North Sea

Castle Storming in the Mosel Valley

Christmas Magic at Bueckeburg Castle

Day Trip from Hannover: Celle

For other travels in Europe, click on the “Travel” category.

*The two photos of the exterior of the Reichstag are from wikipedia.