Guanajuato

October is the perfect month to write about one of my favourite cities in Mexico. Only half an hour away from my hometown, Guanajuato is the capital of the state of the same name, right in the centre of the country. It is one of the oldest cities, too; originally it was populated by the chichimecas, and durig the Conquest it was popular among the Spanish because of its gold, silver and quartz crystals mines.

Also, it played an important role during the Mexican Independence War, its famous Alhóndiga (a place where they stored grains and other goods) was taken by the Insurgent army, giving them an important advantage over the Spanish army. Now it is used for concerts. Basically, the place has a lot of history, and it shows in its architecture: the streets and alleys are all crooked and inclined, meant originally for donkeys and carts carrying metals from the mines; the oldest houses are all colonial style, big mansions for the Spanish mine “owners”.

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Nowadays, what is most striking about Guanajuato is how colourful its houses are, the huge statue of this man known as “el Pípila”— a fictional Independence hero—, and its mummies. Apparently, the soil in the area was not only full of precious metals, but of all kinds of minerals and salts, which naturally preserved the bodies buried in it. So yeah, there are plenty of mummies and a very creepy museum where you can see them. When I was a child, this museum was just a hallway with mummies piled on the walls, but now it’s more hygienic (with glass covering the mummies), and perhaps less creepy. I couldn’t say though, since I have no intention of returning there ever again. If you want an idea of what it was like, read Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Next in Line”, included in The October Country.

Actually, if you’re into creepy stuff, Guanajuato might be just the right place for you. Its streets have hundreds of legends about ghosts, star-crossed lovers, devils and crazy priests. You can even go on a legends tour, leaving from the Jardín de la Unión (it’s like the main square) at night during the weekends. For specific times for this and every tour just visit the unmissable information booth at the gardens. The city even has its own Romeo and Juliet, a legend set in a place called Callejón del Beso or Kissing Alley. Here, the balconies of two houses almost touch and, the legend goes, it was the perfect spot for smooching (unless of course, your father was a crazy, rich Spanyard and your boyfriend, whom he hated, was a poor miner—then it might end tragically).

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Streets of Guanajuato.

Apart from its legends, Guanajuato is famous for its estudiantina, a mobile orchestra composed mainly of mandolins and guitars, which you can join while they serenade along the alleys. This is great fun, or at least it almost always is. If you do join one, make sure the group is not too big, or moving in the narrow alleys might be a bad idea. Also, if you don’t speak at least a bit of Spanish you might miss much of the experience. Weekends during the Summer are not good since Jardín de la Unión is crowded. Also, during the Festival Cervantino, which takes place in October each year, things get very very busy.

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The estudiantina. Originally formed by students (“estudiantes”).

The estudiantina leaves from the church of San Diego, in fron of the Jardín de la Unión every night, every hour from nightfall. Next to San Diego is the Juárez Theatre, which was built at the end of the 19th century and was a big cultural centre for the country before the Revolution. The theatre is where many events of the Festival Cervantino take place, so check the timetables and enjoy a play or a concert in the only theatre that still has its original furniture in Mexico. Also, on the little street between the theatre and the church, you’ll find plenty of handicrafts and traditional souvenirs during the day. The whole area around the gardens is pretty active day and night, really. There are some good restaurants there, though a bit overpriced, and mariachis and other musicians playing during the day, as well as good ice cream.

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Teatro Juárez
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Handicrafts Market next to Jardín de la Unión

Another good place to go to for food is Del Truco alley, where there are plenty of restaurants Truco 7 and Casa Ofelia are pretty good and not expensive. Order enchiladas mineras, a regional dish. From here, you can walk to the University of Guanajuato, a very old, beautiful building with lots of steps. You can also start an alley tour from Del Truco alley. Honestly, the best thing you can do is just walk and get lost in the narrow streets, you’ll find they all have weird names —Alley of the Devil, Alley of the Flood, Alley of the [insert some creepy stuff here]—. Once you’re done wandering around, get yourself on the funicular (from the station at alley De la Constancia) to see everything from the top of the hill where El Pípila is. One of the best things of the city is how it looks from up there: all the small, colorful houses, the church towers and the imposing colonial buildings surrounded by mountains come together in an almost overwhelming landscape.

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As I mentioned, this city boomed because of the mines. Some of them you can still visit, but you’ll have to hop on a bus to get there, since they’re far from the centre. Just get on any bus that says La Valenciana and they’ll drop you at the mine of the same name. There you can get a tour of the insides of the mine and a brief explanation of what a cruel business it was, of the suffering it caused, and also some legends about the hundreds of miners who died due to landslides and asphixia. Just some happy thoughts to get your day going. After a visit to the mines you can explore the many shops that sell pieces of quartz, the only thing that is still extracted from the mines, and jewerly made out of it.

Later in the day you’ll discover that, being a city populated by many uni students, Guanajuato has a very active nightlife. The centre is full of bars and nightclubs, so you’ll have plenty of choices. I recommed a bar I went to last time I was there, it’s called Golem bar and it’s really good. If you’re looking for a hotel that has a slight feeling of being haunted stay at Castillo de Santa Cecilia or La Abadía, they’re probably haunted for real, but they have good breakfasts and pools. And don’t be fooled, just because it’s usually sunny and it’s in Mexico, it doesn’t mean the weather remains warm the whole day, nights get really chilly and the winter months too. Also, it rains a lot during the Summer, but mostly at night.

All in all, Guanajuato is one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico. It has it all: history, views, good food and nightlife, ghosts. If you have a car with you, you can visit three historic towns in the state: Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende. And there are plenty of vineyards in that region, too.

Have you been to Guanajuato already? What did you think of it?

Where to have coffee in Vienna

Last February I had the chance to explore Austria’s capital guided by my local friends. Having been there before, I was surprised to see how many different layers the city has. There’s something for nature lovers, something for classicists, something for alternative crews… and for all kinds of foodies and coffee lovers. Here are my top coffee places in Vienna, awesome to go to for a quick bite and a caffeine fix.


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Sweet potato omelet at Tanzen Anders 😍[[[[[[[[[[[[

Tanzen Anders

This is a wonderful place for breakfast or brunch. It is in Margareten (which is also a great area to stay, full of cafés and young people), and their manu is both simple and tasty. With its minimalistic decoration and great window panes, it is a cozy little place to have your first coffee or chat with friends. I had a wonderful sweet potato omelet there, and the hot coco is also very good.


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Chicken curry and Viennese beer at Augustin.

Das Augustin

A very chic place for dinner and drinks, dim lights, comfy chairs and really good food. It is a little expensive, but worth it. They have everything from burgers and pasta to gnocchi and curry (which I had and was very tasty). Specially good for large groups of people.


Wonderful carrot cake at Motto.

Motto am Fluss

This place is cool because it’s on a boat on the Danube. Although the interior is very pretty (long, shared tables and glass ceiling and walls), it is better to go here when the weather is good, because the terrace overlooking the river is closed in Winter. However, as the prices are a bit expensive, you can just try it for coffee and cake, they have really good cakes (try the carrot cake!).


Gerstner K.u.K. Hofzuckerbäcker

If you’re looking for a very Viennese coffee experience, this is the place. This “konditorei” has it all from coffee to fancy food and exuberant cakes, all in an elegant three-store store building that’ll take you back to the Imperial days. Whether you’re going by yourself of with a small group, this place will make you feel instantly at home with their cozy corners and cozy chairs. As it is in the centre, you might get pretty cool views of Kärntner Straße from the upper floors.


Vollpension

This place claims to have the best pastries in Vienna. They probably do. This place’s food is prepared by grandmas and grandpas and they have all sorts of cakes and hot beverages, and the decorations and atmosphere are both great. Walls full of pictures, large sofas and low tables. The only downside is that it is usually booked for brunch, so plan ahead.


Justizcafé. The café at the Palace of Justice

This is a place not many people know about, because it’s on top of an official building. You’ll have to go through security check and then climb all the way up to the little terrace where government employees have their lunch. The coffee and food are alright, but hey highlight of the place is the view. On summer there are tables on the terrace and in Winter, if you can stand it, you can still look at the city from the balcony.

A day in D.C.

Wether you are or not interested in politics, D.C. is a city that offers charms to everybody. From beautiful parks and wide avenues to quirky bookshops and blues, this city can be a perfect weekend escape. If you don’t know where to begin, here’s a one-day itinerary for a short visit to the political capital of the world.

Running or biking along the National Mall and the Reflecting Pool

Morning or night are the best times to take this long walk from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, passing the Washington Monument (the big obelisk) because it is not yet too hot. The National Mall is a huge park that borders on many of the Smithsonian museums and you’ll get to see some of the most famous landmarks of the city while they’re not yet too crowded and you’ll get a good workout done. The National Mall ends where the obelisk starts, and then you can keep going straight along the Reflecting Pool towards Lincoln Memorial. D.C. has those bikes you can pick up and drop at several points in the city, they’re comfortable and really useful (for only $8 the day) so you could bike instead of running.

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Lincoln Memorial

Breakfast at Fruitive! 

This is a very nice place that offers organic, plant-based food. Of all the places in which I had breakfast this was my favourite because of their WAFFLES. I love waffles and almond butter, and their ABC waffles were all that. They also offer very good juices, oatmeal and other healthy, high energy meals that will set you up for the rest of the day. They have many locations, but I recommend the one on Palmer Street, so you can take a look at this beautifully decorated, high fashion street in the centre of DC.

Museums!

The Smithsonian Institute has 18 museums in DC. Eighteen! Among the most popular there are the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of Natural History. I recommend the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in which you can find many interesting and contemporary pieces as well as more traditional art. There are also the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American  History and Culture, which you could take a look at too, your pick!

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An interesting piece at the American Art Museum

A quick bite at Protein Bar & Kitchen

This place is another one of my findings (I wanted to eat as healthy as possible). It is located also in the city centre, a 20 minute walk away from Georgetown, a very nice and old neighbourhood in D.C.

A walk along the Potomac River to Georgetown, shopping and coffee

After picking up a juice, shake or a wrap, you can start walking East towards the Potomac River, where you’ll find many water related activities going on. Following the river will get you to the Georgetown Waterfront Park and many coffee places like Baked & Wired and Sprinkles Cupcakes, or the amazing Chinese tea house Ching Ching Cha.

Blues (and cocktails) in Georgetown

When you’re done wandering around Georgetown’s colourful streets, you can head to Blues Alley Club, which is next to Ching Ching Cha. It’s a really cool, cozy place for live jazz music and drinks.

Late dinner at The Hamilton

This is my only non-healthy recommendation, but is definitely worth it. Both the burgers and the fried chicken are really good (and those sweet potato fries). They also have a very wide selection of wine and beer, and very friendly and approachable staff to recommend you something if, like me, you’re indecisive. The Hamilton is back at the city centre of D.C., so afterwards you can easily go anywhere.

The Lincoln Memorial by night

If you’re still up for it after dinner, I highly recommend you take a walk alongside the Reflecting Pool at night. The monument’s illumination is gorgeous against a pitch dark background.

Going from the WWII Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial will surely be a good experience, since there are many people about, walking or sitting around chatting. It’s a perfect goodbye to the city and a perfect meet-up point if you’re clubbing.