Archive for the 'travel' Category

Tulum: the food

I’ve been bad about following up on travel posts in the past, so I bet you thought I was heading down that road again. Waha! I fooled you. See, here I am and I’m prepared to break down our culinary tour of Tulum. Or, I’m sort of prepared. I’ve got pics, but my memories have already faded so bear with me. Plus, it’s annoyingly cold outside so looking at these pics might make me more bitter than nostalgic. In any event, here goes. When you tell people you are going to Tulum, they will tell you many things, but frequently you hear that you simply must eat at Posada Margherita (on the beach) and El Camello (in the town). So, of course we ate at neither of these top spots. Oops. We decided that it just meant that we’d have to return.

Anyway, where did we go, you wonder? Well, here you go. We had absolutely delicious breakfasts at our hotel, Posada Luna del Sur. It’s true. They. Were. Amazing.

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The second day that I ordered this delicious egg and salsa verde number, it came with crema, which made me sad. I suppose that’s what I get for not branching out.

Oh! I almost forgot! This breakfast shown above was actually our second meal in Tulum. The first came the night before at Charlie’s, which was a couple of blocks from the hotel. I had a quesadilla and AO had something I can’t remember, but I know that he didn’t think it was very good. The more memorable part of the evening, though, was when the restaurant was bombarded by some sort of postmodern avant-garde small theater troupe that put on what I can describe only as bizarreness. I know I’m kind of a cultural-stick-in-the-mud anyway, but this was just odd. There was a group of America’s Next Top Model contestants sitting next to us (ok, not really, but there was something going on) wearing weird hats and some of them seemed to think the whole thing was so awesome that they took out their phones and videotaped it all. I can’t really explain it except to say that the troupe was maybe five people and one skit (I’m sure that’s an offensive term for what they were doing but I don’t know what else to call it) was about selling shoes. There were possibly some political overtones to the whole thing, but I couldn’t tell you because it was all in Spanish.

Mostly we ate in town, though we had a few meals/snacks on the beach. In town, we had yummy nachos, fish and shrimp fajitas (we ended up taking almost all of the fajitas back to the hotel) at El Capitan.

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One morning, we skipped our hotel’s breakfast to try breakfast in town. We settled on Don Cafeto and ended up more lunching than breakfasting.

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We had a beer at Mateo’s, which is not on the beach but in the beachy part of Tulum.

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On the beach, we ate chips and guac at Playa Paraiso, which were quite tasty. Plus, is there anything in the world like sitting on a warm beach in January and having someone bring you drinks and guacamole? I can’t think of much.

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We also ate absolutely delicious Thai appetizers at Mezzanine, which is a really neat place. It’s up on a hill, above the beach, with great views, tasty food and yummy margaritas. For some reason, I don’t have great pics of it. I think I was too busy pinching myself for being so lucky.

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Another highlight was La Nave, which is an Italian spot in the pueblo. This is where we had delicious pizza, toasted to 40 and listened to street musicians do a bang-up version of La Bamba.

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Excellent, excellent pizza.

The number one spot that we hit, though, was here:

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Antojitos La Chiapaneca. This place opens at night and gets crowded, which makes sense because the tacos are delicious and inexpensive. I’m really annoyed that I don’t have pics of the actual deliciousness. I guess we’ll just have to go back.

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Tulum: to and fro

Before we went to Tulum, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how we were actually going to get there. We had our tickets from Milwaukee to Cancun, but like Madison to Milwaukee, Tulum is about 80 miles from Cancun. So, we could (a) rent a car; (b) take a bus; (c) take a taxi; or (d) take a private transfer, as they’re called. At first, we thought we’d take the bus. We had read that they are safe and reliable, omnipresent and inexpensive. The fare would have cost us each under $10 each way, I think. But then we also read that it could take up to three hours with all of the stops. And that we would have to transfer in Playa del Carmen. I worried that if our flight, which was scheduled to arrive at 5:15 p.m. in Cancun, was delayed and if immigration and customs took a long time that we might not get into town until 10 or later. That did not seem like an ideal way to start off the trip. So we moved onto car rental. We thought, “Wowee!” when I found a car from Thrifty for $35 for Saturday through Thursday, which included unlimited miles. But then AO dug into the interwebs and discovered all sorts of horror stories of car rentals – from being shaken down by the police to being gouged with extra insurance costs to having credit card numbers stolen. Of course a million and one people also reported that they had had no issue with rental cars, that the process was a breeze, and that it was such a great way to explore. Still, we were sufficiently nervous that we took another look around. And we looked and looked and looked, but couldn’t make a decision. AO did some research and came up with Canada Transfers, which was highly rated on TripAdvisor. There are a number of other transfer companies that get great reviews, and there was another one recommended to us by the owner of the hotel at which we stayed, but we opted for CT because of its high rating and its willingness to have cold beers waiting for us upon arrival. In addition, the total cost for the two of us to get in a private van at the exit of the airport to our hotel doorstep in Tulum and then for the van to meet us on the morning of our departure and take us to the airport was $165. Seemed sort of like a no-brainer. I was worried, though, because our indecision meant we were booking the service within maybe 28 hours of when we needed it. In the end, there was no reason to worry. Everything went off without a hitch (unless you call CT having Coronas for us when we had asked for Sol a “hitch,” which I really don’t) and we would recommend them without hesitation. Oh! And an added bonus of the CT experience? The company advertises that they will meet you at the airport with a sign with your name on it. I was very excited about this, except also embarrassed, so I put AO’s name on the request. Well, we had been warned sufficiently not to make eye contact with the hundreds of people waiting outside of customs to sell us time shares (in reality, no one seemed very interested in us) and to just push outside, but to make sure that we did not fall victim to CT posers and to verify that we were getting a ride from the right people. I thought this would be easy enough because, after all, someone was going to be holding AO’s name up on a card. Except that didn’t happen. There were a ton of people waiting to transport people to their hotels, but no one was advertising that they wanted to escort AO. Boo. We circled around for awhile and decided to just stand near the two men who were wearing CT shirts. I wanted a closer look. Were these real CT people or were they the frauds we’d been warned against? It was hard to tell. They looked legit. Their shirts had the same logo on them that my receipt had on it. They had big clipboards with spreadsheets of what looked like hundreds of names and arrival times and hotel information. Hmm. I moved in closer. Soon thereafter, a man who can be described only as doing his best impression (and it was good) of Fred Armisen pretending to be a Mexican transportation wrangler turned to us and said, “Well, hello.” And then he found our names and we were sent on our merry way! It was a delight. Oh again! And one more thing … both vans we rode in had a child seat ready to go, which was great to see.

As for getting around once we were in town, transportation in the area could not have been easier. The town is highly walkable and we loved walking up and down the streets every day. It’s true that there are parts that have seen better days.

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But there’s all sorts of greatness, too.

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Our hotel, Posada Luna del Sur

Our hotel, Posada Luna del Sur

So, we did a lot of walking. To get to the beach, though, we did a lot of biking and a lot of taxiing. Both were super fun and inexpensive and easy peasy. We rented bikes from Center City Bikes (I think it was called) for 80 pesos each for 24 hours. The next day we rented bikes from iBike for 100 pesos each for a same-day rental. The same-day rental was all we needed both days because these two bike places were on the opposite side of town from our hotel so, if we weren’t keeping them for the week, it made just as much sense to drop them off at the end of the day and walk back to our room. Both bike shops provided bikes with baskets and a lock. AO told me that iBikes also offered helmets, but I missed that. The bikes weren’t in awesome condition, but they were functional. They were a little uncomfortable just because they were a little short, but the area is really flat so it wasn’t much of an issue.

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On the bike path from town to the beach, there are all of these little rest stop thingees that have signs showing a parent holding a child’s hand or a person sitting down.

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I wasn’t totally sure what the intent of these stops is – they look like bus stops, but I never saw anyone waiting at them or a bus stop and let someone off at them. They are kinda cute, though, don’t you think?

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The above snapshot is a pic I took while biking on the path. Very fun.

What else was fun? Taxis! There is something super fun and yet relaxing to me about taking taxis in paradise. The windows are open, the breeze is flowing, it’s warm and sitting in the backseat makes me sleepy. Taxis from town to the beach were about $6 for the two of us each way.

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In addition to walking in Tulum Pueblo, we did a lot of walking in the beachy town and on the beach. A lot.

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A path to a beach club

A path to a beach club

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And then sometimes we’d end up at a bar.

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All in all, I’m really glad we picked the transportation options we did. Despite our initial worries about getting around, it was a breeze.

Tulum travelogue

The last time AO and I went away on vacation together, without a kiddo and without agenda (I.e., a wedding), was in March 2011 when we went to St Maarten. After some time touring around the island, we realized we should clearly be the ones to write a travel guide to the place. Hence, this, this, this, this, this and this. Similarly, in Tulum, we thought, “Let’s write it all down to share with the world!” Or, you know, the readers of this blog. All five of you. And anyone who can access the internet.

As far as I can tell, there are no guidebooks solely dedicated to Tulum. Most guidebooks that include Tulum are either guidebooks to the Yucatan Peninsula or to Cancun and the surrounding areas. This makes sense for at least two reasons. One, the place is small. It’s not teeny-tiny, but it’s small enough that it probably doesn’t warrant its own book. Though it does seem like you could make a moderate-sized book out of Tulum, Coba, Valladolid, Chichen Itza and the Sian Ka’an biosphere. But what do I know? The second reason, which we had heard about before our trip and confirmed on our trip, is that there can be lots of turnover of hotels and restaurants. Of course this happens everywhere, but could certainly impair the quality of a guidebook. You wouldn’t want to do detailed reviews on dozens of hotels if half of them won’t be there in a year, would you? Well, I would if it meant my job could be reviewing hotels in Tulum.

Anyway, even if we had had the best guidebooks in the universe (and I’m not saying we didn’t, I guess), I still think we’d want to write down all of our thoughts on our vacation. If only in order to relive the glory. So, over the next week or so I intend to post about the basics, lodging and travel, as well as food, sights and sounds, and the general loveliness of our days in paradise.

Wedding of the century

Well, she did it. The GAOOG went and got married. Some said it couldn’t be done (no one really said that ever), but she proved them all wrong. She went and married her sweetheart in one of the best ceremonies I’ve ever seen and had one of the best receptions ever. Even the raindrops were perfect. Congrats to the newest Mr. & Mrs. Blue. May you have a lifetime of love and laughter.

And here was an unexpected surprise:

Los Olivos map

Los Olivos

 Los Olivos may be one of the cutest towns ever.

LA weekend

Last weekend I got to go to LA to visit the GAOOG. Special thanks to AO for being so supportive of this trip. It was a great time with sunshine and lots of wine and laughs. I didn’t want to be burdened by my giant camera for such a short trip, so I have only iPhone pics to share. And, yes, they’re mostly of what we ate. You didn’t think I was going to show you the dress we found, did you? Shame on you.

Tacos and flautas!

Tacos and flautas!

Nina's

Nina’s

Our first stop after the airport pickup (holy traffic, LAX!) was Nina’s, a tiny little taco shop in West LA. Delish!

The next day, after sleeping in, we got up and went to get coffee (the GAOOG’s morning ritual involves a trip to Peet’s where, not only do the employees know my friend, they know how to make her very specific Americano. And if it isn’t made right – say because they hired a new employee – they will have it remade without our little Indian having to say a word). Then we headed out for a hike. Me in shorts and a tee shirt, the GAOOG in a long-sleeve shirt, long capris and a hat.

Hiking trail

Hiking trail

View

View

View

View

Orange tree

Orange tree

After the hike, we headed to Olive & Thyme for lunch and snagged a small table (in the shade per the GAOOG’s request) outside.

O & T

O & T

Hummus plate for me, egg number for her

Hummus plate for me, egg number for her

After lunch, we went back to SR’s apartment, showered and changed and headed out for a Dress Appointment. This Dress Appointment was just supposed to be to get the feel of things. We were just supposed to be seeing what she liked, what she didn’t like. You know the drill. In fact, we were supposed to be just scoping out the bridal world so we could go back to SR’s stylist friend and report our findings so he could come up with something perfect (and possibly free). Instead, we found The Dress. Gulp! First dress she tried on. Bam. Nailed it. Done and done. But first, we let the shop treat us to a little Prosecco. Cheers! After such an exhausting emotional afternoon, we headed back to SR’s apartment (after a short stop in a cute furniture store where we saw the First Lady of tv) for a little rest. I admit I snoozed a bit. For dinner, we  went to SR’s favorite place, Cube, where we dined with SR’s fiance. I had a super pizza and a side of delicious baby broccoli with garlic. I forgot to take pics of it, but here is the tasty charcuterie plate we started with:

Meat and cheese

Meat and cheese

Cube

Cube

On Day Three, I really slept in. I mean, REALLY. It was heaven. I hadn’t slept that long or that well in ages. Was it the best part of the trip? Nah, but it was amazing. Ok, so day three we headed downtown to the Grand Central Market, a place I requested we hit up after I saw it featured recently in the New York Times. It did not disappoint. It’s a bit like Milwaukee’s Public Market, but not.

Market, as seen from the street

Market, as seen from the street

Market signs

Market sign

Market

Market

Stuff

Stuff

This is where SR ate. It was super popular.

This is where SR ate. It was super popular.

This pic is for Maggie & Bryan

This pic is for Maggie & Bryan

A little B&W

A little B&W

More market

More market

Market map

Market map

After the market, SR indulged me and drove us over to West Hollywood, so I could get a little shot of this. If you don’t know the significance, you should be proud of yourself.

Sur

Sur

Sur

Sur

After SR made her second of three jean changes of the day, we each got a mani-pedi and I got an amazing brow wax. Thanks again! For the evening, we decided to stay in because we needed to get a lot of wedding work done. We had champagne and wine and tacos (again!), watched Bridesmaids, which just serendipitously happened to be on, and tackled the color scheme, bridesmaids’ dresses, the photographer and the DJ. Phew. It was a lot.

We didn’t have a lot of time on my last day, so we just got coffee, drove around and looked at fancy houses (a hobby of mine) and went to Hugo’s for lunch. If the theme of this year’s visit was wedding and tacos, last time I visited the theme was open houses and turkey burgers. I ate so many turkey burgers last time I visited that LA is now inextricably linked in my mind with the poultry sandwich.

Hugo's turkey burger

Hugo’s turkey burger

After lunch, it was off to JMB’s place because he nicely offered to take me to the airport because SR was otherwise occupied. I snapped this outside his place, figuring it would be the last green I would see for awhile.

Grass. In January.

Grass. In January.

Despite the traffic, I can see why she lives there. And despite the cold, I hope she visits soon.