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ZEE- Place to Be

Expo Vino 2019

In recent years I have noticed a concentrated effort by government, locals and foreigners alike to position, Zihuatanejo as “The” place to be. It seems that nearly every month, there are events featuring gastronomical extravaganzas (such as the tiritas festival and Clandestine dinners), to craft beer tastings, and world class week long extravaganzas like Sailfest, and the International Guitarfest. In fact, it is hard to find a month where an important festival is not taking place.

Enter another event, The Expo Vino, now in its third year, conceived by local businessman, Sommelier Miquel Quiroz Arroyo. Born and raised in Zihuatanejo, Quiroz Arroyo first started the festival with the idea of featuring the portfolio of wines his wholesale company carried for many years.

I caught up with Quiroz Arroyo prior to the festival at his wine shop, Rivello Bar & Wine on Nicolas Bravo in the heart of downtown Zihuatanejo, which had opened a few months before. Coupled with the success of his wine Expo, Quiroz Arroyo felt that that Zihuatanejo was ripe for a wine tasting room of its own.  His idea was to educate the general public, both locals and tourists alike, on the many wines they carry from around the world. When I walked in, Quiroz Arroyo, a member of the prestigious organization ONSOM (Organization National de Sommeliers Mexicanos), was teaching a wine class to hospitality and tourism students from Universidad Technologica de la Costa Grande in nearby town of Petatlan.

I immediately noticed the similarities of Rivello Bar & Wine to the wine shops and tasting rooms I had just visited in Spain and Portugal this past Fall, – an observation Quiroz Arroyo confirmed that had inspired him as well during a recent visit to Italy and France. Although open daily, each Thursday customers can book their own private wine tasting party for the reasonable price of $200 pesos, a minimum of 4 people, maximum of 10. And for Quiroz Arroyo, it was a perfect compliment to the festival itself.

Along with a few hundred people, I bought my ticket, (early bird price of 400 pesos, 600 pesos at the door).  I arrived to find numerous tables dotting the beach resort of the Sotovento Beach Club, set against the beautiful bay of Zihuatanejo as its backdrop.

Expo Vino 2019, featured wines from Portugal, Spain, Italy as well as from Chile, USA and Mexico. Attendees were treated with tastings of everything from Green wine from Portugal to Malbec from Argentina, and a wide array of sparkling wines, Merlot and Pino Grigio to name a few.

To make things feel even more exclusive, there were timed private tastings you pre-registered for. Beginning at 4:00 pm, 4 featured Sommeliers, Marianna Jiménez, Santiago Soto, Leo Corredor, as well as organizer Miguel Quiroz Arroyo, presented.  I chose to attend the 5:00 pm tasting with Sommelier Marianna Jimenez who spoke about two wines by Bodegas Arraez. Even though the lecture was in Spanish, it was easy enough to follow – possibly the delicious wine served had something to do with that!

Several local restaurants served tasty food options, such as Shrimp chow mien, sliders and sushi, perfect for wine pairing and easy enough to carry while I flitted from table to table, sipping, talking and of course, drinking wine.

The finish to the night included music by the ever-popular group Vertical Classic Rock. As we danced the evening away, I thought two things- what could possibly be better than the moon, the stars, wine and music? And that I am already looking forward to Expo Vino 2020.

Zee Place To Be- Boutique Hotel Puerta Paraiso

Puerta Paraiso hotel and resort in Playa Larga, Mexico

Puerta Paraíso Hotel Boutique

Just outside of Zihuatanejo on the road to the airport is a turnoff that will take you to the area’s longest beach, Playa Larga. At 12 kilometres, and quieter than most, (especially during the week) it is a preferred destination for nationals and tourists. One of the reasons is the numerous restaurants that dot the sandy beaches, offering the absolute best in fresh-caught fish and seafood. Many restaurants have swimming pools as swimming here can be dangerous for any but the most experienced and not recommended. Some restaurants even entertain with local musicians. 

Playa Larga has long been considered an ideal location from October to March, for whale and dolphin sightings common to the area, and the turtles are spawning on the beach. You can rent horses from Rancho Risquel and ride along the shore and into the coconut plantation or indulge in a visit to the local Temazcal Badihuni, an ancient practice that means “rebirth,” for a steam bath and ceremony with a famed healer, Lupita Maldonado. 

The past few years there has been another surge in development with several small hotels rooms for rent places, on or across the beach. There are several convenience stores to accommodate basic needs during your stay as some of these come with kitchens, perfect for the budget conscious. 

Not far off the beaten path is a small boutique hotel of just seven luxurious rooms, known as Puerta Paraiso, which means Door to Paradise. Bought initially as a family retreat by owner Raul Esponda 25 years ago, it has morphed into one of Playa Larga’s exclusive retreat during the last five. I decided to book a room for one night, even though I had been there several times for various events and day-time gatherings.

The first thing that struck me was how attentive and accommodating everyone was, beginning with the staff who greeted us to General Manager Omar Valdovinos, who showed us to our room.

The second was how lovely the rooms were – each perfectly appointed with couches and throw pillows and generous size beds. Just outside the beautiful wooden bifold doors is a private patio area with a hammock, an oversized lounger plus a smaller one, and table and chairs under a thatch covered roof. The tiles are terra cotta, and the colour scheme and furniture have a decidedly elegant Mexican flair. Toiletries such as shampoos and coconut soap are top grade as are the towels and linens. 

Puerta Paraiso hotel and resort in Playa Larga, Mexico

From every room, you can see the large, pebbled pool to the beach and surf beyond. The restaurant is an open area and spacious, and you can choose a table on the beach complete with your loungers, or in a dining area, or if you prefer, take a seat at the bar. There’s even a standard room with a TV off to one side. The food was first class, beautifully prepared and served by our attentive waiter Daniel and offered everything from tacos and burgers to innovative seafood offerings and full course dinners. 

“It’s becoming popular to book our hotel for parties, weddings and other special events,” says Valdovinos. “For the last two years we were one of the hosts of the International Guitarfest. We have a day pass too which is 500-peso consumption per person.”

At just 10-15 minutes from Zihuatanejo by taxi, it’s an easy and safe getaway for anyone looking to escape the busier vibrant community nearby. For the more adventurous, you can take a combi to the entrance to Playa Larga, then for a few pesos another ride to the beach in the back of a pickup truck with benches. It’s either a ten-minute walk from there, or for 20 pesos more you can convince them to take you all the way, a perfect solution if you have luggage with you. 

Prices which include breakfast, start at 3500 pesos per night in low season, $4000 December 15 up until Easter. Select dates of Christmas and Easter at 4500 pesos per night.

For reservations: Puerta Paraíso Hotel Boutique

Ocean Front House and Garden Paradise, Playa Larga, 40880 Zihuatanejo, Gro.

Teléfono755 553 2142

Zee Place To Be- Paella Festival 2021- a new (safer) way to fundraise!

Like all Rotary Clubs the world over, the Rotary Club of Zihuatanejo is known for their many fundraising projects designed to give back to their community. Some of these over the 30 years the local Club has been in existence, include delivering 700 food baskets for people in need, New Years dinner for different families in Zihuatanejo, and a program that helps children with medical necessities. In 2019 and 2020, the Club organized an international writing project for Zihuantanejo’s public schools and many other projects.

Perhaps one of the most successful fundraiser, (and the most fun) is the Paella festival. Now in its third year the event, organized once again by Claudia de Leon and nine other Rotarians who volunteer their time, is for the benefit of local hospital Doctor Bernardo Sepulveda Gutierrez. Last year the fundraiser was delegated to the pediatric wing. This year, and due to Covid, the Club in conjunction with the doctors, may direct money to other areas within Doctor Bernardo Sepulveda Gutierrez, as need dictates.

And while last year’s festival, held on the beach in front of the municipal museum, was a roaring success, it was apparent that with the advent of Covid 19, a whole new strategy would be necessary to keep everyone safe and follow health protocols. With that in mind, this year’s Paella Festival organized a little differently. 

Instead of large crowds, sampling numerous Paella’s from various restaurants, this year, your ticket will allow you to choose just one restaurant out of the ten participating. Each restaurant scattered throughout Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo will be allowed to host 15 participants in total, thereby ensuring everyone’s safety. 

Tickets at 250 pesos (alcohol and tip not included) are valid for one day only – Feb 6 – from 5 pm to 9 pm with three restaurants hosting lunchtime servings of Paella from 1 to 5. While restaurants are donating their Paella’s to this worthy organization, as well as a variety of community volunteers, de Leon says it is remarkable in these challenging times. 

Participating Restaurants are: 

In Ixtapa: Bistro Soleiado, (El Cielo and Kau Kan sold out)

In Zihuatanejo: El Mediterraneo, El Vigia, Carmalitas, Hotel Bella Vista, Angustina, Sotavento Beach Club by Bandidos, Garrobos, Chez Leo, Ristorante D’Maria

Barra de Postosi: Bella Vista Hotel

Last year tickets went fast so you might want to order yours early, especially if there is a particular restaurant you want to try. You can reserve your spot by contacting a member of the Rotary Club through their Facebook page.   https://www.facebook.com/113795077056530/ 

Zee Place To Be-It Takes A Village

If there is one thing that my years in Mexico have taught me, it is that the people who have the least are generally the ones who give the most. A case in point is how the La Presa II neighborhood in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, is helping its community members survive during Covid-19 closures.

An initiative began in early 2020 soon after the pandemic forced the government to close the neighborhood’s school, Centenario de la Revolucion, which was built with funds from the local charitable organization Por Los Niños. As a government-run school in one of the poorest areas in Zihuatanejo, it provides a free lunch for all its 300-plus students, a program that came to an end with the school’s closing.

Mothers realized soon enough that not only would the students no longer have access to a nutritional lunch but that the students’ families would need help too: many had lost their jobs and were now unable to provide even the barest of necessities. The women searched for someplace nearby where they could set up a kitchen.

La Presa II president, Ignacio Bustos, secured a small area near the school. Two mothers, Doña Laura Valdovinos and Elvira Olea Calixto, constructed the mud chiminea (an open-hearth oven) according to traditional building methods.

Together with others, they hauled in some tables, cooking vessels and supplies and set up their makeshift commissary. More mothers, seven in all, joined. These women and other volunteers come regularly to cook, take names and photos of recipients and give out care packages of food.

According to community liaison and teacher Rosario Leyva Mata, the group has been serving food for up to 300 people a day, all without pay, since May.

Organizers soon found it would take the community to make the project sustainable — for what might need to be a long time to come. That community has come to be a combination of expats, people who live and do business in the neighborhood, local charities and DIF family services.

Among the non-Mexicans helping out is a group of women from Canada who remain deliberately anonymous but are fondly known as The AbuelasPrimarily known for their literacy and social service programs at the school, The Abuelas now also ensure that there is wood to cook the food, bottles of water and meat for a community meal or two each week.

Most are Mexicans, however — members of the community.

In addition to essential foods like rice, beans and vegetables provided by Por Los Niños and, on occasion, DIF family servicesand the local charitable group Juntos Somos Zihua, community members contribute, donate or volunteer their time, supplies, and effort to support this initiative.

The diverse network, headed by Levya with her husband Salvador García and her children Eryn Rose and Oliver, includes residents like Oscar Bravo, who has donated masa (corn flour) several times for picadillo or tacos, and businesses like the butcher Carnicería Michelle, which has donated extra meat for pozole and stew on numerous occasions. Mely Cadena, owner of a small convenience store next door to the kitchen, often volunteers her time there.

Meanwhile, master gardener Genaro Flores, who teaches gardening at the school, maintains the school’s garden so that it doesn’t become unmanageable while no one is there to tend it. From the garden, he supplies the initiative’s kitchen with vegetables like chiles, radishes and tomatoes. He also supplies fruit like papaya from the school’s trees.

While the community bands together feeding students’ stomachs, in her role as teacher Levya is also heavily involved in efforts to feed their minds. With school closed, some students are taught remotely by television now. Sixteen teachers provide the curriculum. But a larger percentage of students receive printed activity booklets. Teachers communicate with students through WhatsApp, video calls, Facebook Messenger and even some home visits.

Just as she does for all the organizations and volunteers involved in the community meals initiative, Leyva acts as a liaison for her fellow teachers, spending countless hours putting together packages for approximately 260 students.

Levya says that the cost to maintain this community kitchen initiative ranges from 2,500 to 3,500 pesos a week, depending on the number of mouths to feed. When asked how long she thinks it can carry on, she just lifts her hands.

“Once the money dries up,” she says, “so will the project.”

If you would like to help the La Presa II community kitchen project, you can contact Por Los Niños through the charitable organization’s website.

ZEE Place to Be: Women Artists of Zihuatanejo (Mujeres Artistas de Zihuatanejo)

Organizer Peg Harris

It is appropriate that the premier art show in Zihuatanejo, Women Artists of Zihuatanejo (Mujeres Artistas de Zihuatanejo) happened this year on February 29, also known as “Sadie Hawkins Day.” An Irish based tradition, Sadie Hawkins is the day when a woman can propose to a man.

Today in more modern times, however, the day represents among other things, a day of female empowerment. And since the translation of Zihuatanejo literally means “A Place Of Women” it is highly appropriate to do a show of this type and on a day that occurs only once every four years.

It all started when artists James Crespinel and Monica Gutiérrez decided they needed a creative space to work. It wasn’t too long though before other artists were invited to share the workspace and exhibit at what is now known as Mezgaleria.

Says the duo, “It became a place where artists who previously could only show in restaurants, retail stores, or in some cases, their own gallery, could now have a professional venue to showcase their works.” In speaking with them I could feel the passion they had about the gallery- a true labour of love as they give the community a creative space in which to show. Adds Crespinel, “The purpose was to bring women together as a collective group rather than with an individual show.”

I walked into the gallery on opening night to find the place buzzing with excitement. It was easy to tell there was a lot of love in the room that was contagious. It seemed to me that the elite of Zihua society was in attendance and as Gutiérrez remarked, women (and perhaps men too), were as concerned as much about the clothes they wore to the event as the show itself. Judging from the looks of so many beautiful people in one room, I can only agree.

But as to the show itself- thirty talented women from the region exhibited their works in a variety of styles and genres that ranged from sculpture to paintings, paper mâché, as well as textiles in the form of purses, jewelry and silk scarves. The artists were encouraged to show their best piece(s) and of course the intent was to sell their work. Of the artists, five of the thirty did just that. 

Show organizer, Peg Harris, an artist and exhibiter herself, explained how women were chosen to show. “Some of the women were gathered by their involvement at previous shows, this one being the 4th after a one-year hiatus.”  She also sent letters out to artists inviting them to exhibit, while Gutiérrez searched the area for artists by visiting them in their home studios and through word of mouth

“It’s a wonderful event and its all about bringing communities together,” Harris said. As far as how the show might evolve in the future, “There are a lot of directions that we could do in the future but right now we know its’s a show that people look forward to and we’d like it to continue.”

Interesting to me was that of 30 exhibiters, 17 were Mexican while the other 13 were either Americans or Canadians with one artist from Sweden. “And all of them have a strong connection to Zihuatanejo in one form or another, whether they live here full time or are people who spend a few months a year here,” said Gutierrez.

List of Artists:

: Agatha Fast Ana López Doddoli, Barbara Bridges, Carla Juarez, Carla López, Carmen Rivas, Ciria Velázquez, Edita Kon, Gabriela Trejo, Gloria Hernández, Grace Relfe, Gwyn Barre, Guadalupe Gaytan, Lauri Copeman, Lisa Bissonnette, Martina Croghan, Mishel Espinal, Mónica Gutiérrez, Monserrat Baños, Nina Turkin, Peg Harris, Perla Arana, Rubí Quintana, Sonya Yahyaoui, Suzanne Viechnicki, Tamara Zapata, Tina Andreasson, Viridiana De la O, Yoba Gould, Zahira de Anda

For those who missed the show, the gallery will be open 10-6 M-F, 10-3 Saturday for one more week.

Zee Place To BE- 2020Mezcal Festival

February 28th marked the 4th annual Mezcal Festival in Zihuatanejo. It started all, as most things do in Mexico, with a parade that ran from Plaza Kyoto to the downtown core. Although small, it was an enthusiastic crowd of both participants and spectators alike- and free samples of Mezcal along the way. Which is probably why the parade was slower than most. But there were horses, real and not so real, and perhaps after a few samples, imagined too.

After the parade- well okay before the parade was over, my friends and I headed to the beach in front of the museum where all the good festivals of Zihuatanejo take place. It wasn’t too crowded yet, so we were able to scoot into the lines of mezcal stands and sample as many kinds of mezcal as we could. And there were far more than I ever thought was possible.

There was coffee flavoured, fruit flavored, mezcals with real scorpions on the bottom (that kind of creeped me out,) as well as creamy concoctions that I think I liked better than even the more traditional ones. There was no Ben one with real gold flecks in it that sold for 2500 pesos a bottle. I wasn’t surprised when they said there would not be free samples of it.

The ever-present row of food vendors lined the sidewalk directly in front of the museum and offered a wide variety of taste experiences from paella, to tacos, shrimp on a stick and fresh boleos stuffed with roasted pork. For those not as mezcal oriented, you could wash it all down with beer or fruit juices and water.

By 7:00 the place was packed, and I was happy to take a seat and watch a show that involved youths with masks, a tiger and lots of whips all acted out to the sound of flute and drums. Exciting stuff. Then the band started up- an energetic, youthful and extremely talented group called Auraccion, and I was dragged (ok I went willingly) to the dance floor.

Once again, another first class, well run festival in Zihuatanejo has come and gone. All I can say is after four successful Mezcal festivals, I can’t wait until next year.

Tavira

By now I was becoming quite the pro in getting out of “Dodge”, or in this case cities in Spain. My drive to Tavira Portugal was uneventfully peaceful and I loved the scenery as I rode the impeccable highways to my destination. Tavira is the home of a British ex-pat I know named Pauline, and the sister of Gloria, a woman I have known for many years in Zihuatanejo. I decided that I would definitely pay Pauline a visit, a prearranged dinner with Pauline and another sister Christine, and friends Penny and Delia from England. The other two days I decided to leave completely open with no agenda, no pre-booked tours of any kind and just take the time to chill before heading to Lisbon, and my final stop before flying home.

Tavira is a small city on Portugal’s Algarve coast. It straddles the Gilão River, which reaches the sea through the inlets and lagoons of Ria Formosa Natural Park. Tavira Island has a long, sandy beach, plus salt pans that attract flamingos, spoonbills and other wading birds. In the center, medieval Tavira Castle has city views. The Santa Maria do Castelo Church houses the tombs of 7 knights killed by the Moors. (Wikipedia)

I arrived early afternoon, and quite by accident, took the road towards an area called Santa Lucia, as it looked as if it ran down the coastline, with Tavira the city a few miles in the distance. I had a couple hours before I could check in to my Airbnb, and so parked my car near a launch that took river tours down the Ria Formosa. I decided to take it- one because I was throwing all caution and plans to the wind, and two because Formosa is the name of the town I grew up in, in Ontario Canada. I thought it was a good omen.

The large riverboat meandered along quite some ways before she dropped everyone off at a beach area. I walked the sandy path to the wide-open ocean and promptly found a chair with an umbrella, and near the bar. Out of the hot sun I reveled in the gloriousness of the day for a few hours and even took a dip in the frigid ocean.  

Once back on shore, I saw that my google maps no longer worked, due to the fact that I didn’t have a Portugal chip yet and my Spain one was out of data. I decided to have a glass of wine at a local restaurant across the street from my vehicle, to ponder my predicament.

When I had finished, the waiter assisted me in getting a taxi to lead me into town. He allowed me to use his internet and I was able to call ahead and let my host Ana know I was on my way. Her son met me at the charming little house, advertised as House sea in historic Center Tavira.   

The little 2 storey house was close to everything as I was soon to find, and a well stocked kitchen- including a jar of instant coffee and milk for the next morning. I was in heaven, but first I knew I had to get to a store to purchase a chip for my phone. I wasn’t able to park directly in front of the condo, but there was a free spot in the lot above me.

My host directed me to a modern shopping mall, about a 20-minute walk away, which gave me a great opportunity to stretch my legs.  I had to cross a great span of bridge that separated one part of town from another which gave me a lovely picture of the Rio Formosa and the town. I saw that there were numerous cruises I could take the next day if I wanted, as well as a wide variety of cafes that dotted the banks of the Formosa on either side. The scene was like a postcard and I fell a little in love with it.

The purchase of a chip was relatively easy once I found the right store, and the young man spoke English which always helps as I do not speak Portuguese. It was a nice mall- very modern with everything from a full-size grocery store to several chain clothing stores, as well as mom and pop type businesses.

On the way back, I decided to explore the area a bit. By now it was early evening, and I planned to call it an early night. Besides my accommodation had a TV and an excellent internet connection. I crossed the river again and turned down the canal which was already filling with early diners like myself and I people watched throughout my meal.

The next day I strolled past a large indoor market that looked as if it were about to open. There, fruits vegetables, cheese and even clothes I think were on display, but I was too early, and no one seemed eager to serve me, so I left. I returned instead to the same canal for breakfast, a mere few blocks away and had breakfast, this time at a different café. Although I craved bacon and eggs, it appeared that this was not on the menu and I ordered my usual of buttered toast with a side of olive oil.

As a side note, due to my RA (Rheumatoid arthritis), I am following quite a strict diet in Canada of no carbs, high fats and protein, which has worked fairly well. Here, in Spain and Portugal, it is not as easy to do, especially if you eat out a lot. It seems that bread is a staple, smothered or dipped in olive oil, small tapas which are often too salty and sometimes grilled but mostly deep fried. Vegetables at restaurants are scarce and a salad can cost over 8-12 euros which is a lot, while the less healthy choices are very cheap. Throughout my trip, while doing the best I could to eat healthy, I chose to eat like a local. Surprisingly I never felt better and wondered if perhaps it was the flour that had less gluten, or the copious amounts of olive oil I was consuming. Either way it was a treat to eat fresh delicious bread and croissants on a daily basis.

Once breakfast was over, I noticed a few people lining up at several kiosks that dotted the street and I went to investigate the tours each one was offering. I finally decided on another river cruise down the Formosa, this time to another beach. I chatted with several people on the boat, tourists like myself, (everyone was always so friendly I found), but we parted ways at our destination. This beach whose name I cannot remember, was nearly deserted as well, but there were a few that looked like good restaurants to have lunch at later. I spent a wonderful day just basking in the sun, but unlike the day before decided not to swim in the frigid water. Tired, tanned and feeling rejuvenated, I headed home for a nap and early night. Surprising how tiring doing nothing can be.

Upon my return to the condo/house, I decided I should check and see if my car was still safe where I had parked it. Good thing- an older couple and a policeman were crowded around it. They were startled as I walked up and alerted them to my presence. I asked in Spanish, as my Portuguese was pretty non- existent, if everything was alright. The woman pointed to my car angrily and I could see that my car was not really parked in a good spot at all, but rather was sitting on the curb directly in front of the entrance to their home. I could easily see how that would irritate anyone. In my defense, all the other spots were taken when I had parked the day before and since I had noticed another car doing the same, I decided I would as well. I planned to move it when a spot became available in front of my apartment.

The policeman, who spoke perfect English told me that I had parked in a bad spot. Fearing a ticket, especially in a foreign country I apologized over and over again until I could sense the woman and man softening, then hurried to move my car to a better spot. The next morning as soon as one opened in front of the condo, I claimed it.

I had zero plans for the next day other than to catch up with some emails, do a little writing and take advantage of the washing machine in the condo. By late afternoon I was ready to do some exploring and decided to check out the more historic area of town and take some photos. I managed to capture quite a few postcard- like scenes as well as do a little shopping and chat with the locals and visitors everywhere I went. Around early evening I went in search of dinner.

 The streets twisted and turned for a few blocks before I came upon a lovely little French restaurant and where I decided to dine. I enjoyed a delicious meal of seafood, fresh bread and the ever-present olive bowl. I was alone but I didn’t feel lonely somehow- in fact loneliness was the last thing I felt throughout the whole time away. Perhaps I was more nostalgic or just reflective. But never lonely. Strange.

My last and final day was spent taking still more photos of areas I had missed the day before, and then later I headed to my friend Pauline’s place in Santa Lucia for dinner.

The town was captivating, and I could imagine living here at least a month of every year just being. And from what Pauline told me, it was a very close-knit community where everyone knew each other and presumably watched out for each other. Pauline, her friends and I enjoyed a couple glasses of wine at her beautiful villa, then set out by car a mile or so from town, to a local restaurant. There were no menus- the chef and owner would take care of everything and just bring us food, Pauline told me. I was perfectly happy to sit back and enjoy the wonderful company. And, as promised, the food was amazing and only about $20 Canadian dollars each.

I was sad to say goodbye at the end of the night to my new friends but have decided that perhaps Tavira was worth another visit in the future- and perhaps for a longer stay. For sure it is a place I would definitely recommend to others.

But for now, Lisbon and the final leg of my trip beckoned.

Seville

When I was mapping out my route through Spain and Portugal I didn’t have a clear cut agenda. I had heard of the major cities, of which of course Seville is one, and planned my trip around that. Some conversations with a few people who had traveled to Spain, helped me with my decision. When I think of Spain I think Flamenco dancing and horses, so that was what I wanted to concentrate on more than anything. But first a place to stay.

I chose an apartment style accommodation though AirBnB that included a couple and child because of the ad that read like this: Sevilla Capital – Habitación privadabright room overlooking the pool in Seville Capital
– 7 minutes by car to the historic center and 10 minutes to the Aeroporto and Santa Justa station.
Bus stop near home.
Easy to park, Uber and Cabify.
In our bairro it has restaurants, supermarket, pharmacy, tapas bars and coffee shops around the building where we live, and it is very nice.For quem looking for an experience beyond the tourist part is the ideal place.

The apartment was exactly as described, small but super clean. It also showed it had a washing machine which I needed at this point and asked to make use of. My hosts were a very nice young couple with a young daughter around the age of 7-8. I barely heard any of them as I came and went on my tours, although twice during the 4 night stay I encountered people who had obviously been sleeping on the couch. I realized they rented to what is known “couch surfers” as well, and I was a little nonplussed to tell you the truth. Coupled with that, the beautiful pool area my room overlooked, was I was informed by Marcele, my host that it was not available. I saw that it was pristine and obviously running fine, but for reasons I could not fathom, no one was using it. A huge disappointment to me as I was really looking forward to a swim after a long hot drive. And it is a pet peeve of mine that people advertise what they cannot deliver. And, when I left, Marcele charged me 4 euros for the use of the washing machine, something that is also not advertised in their listing. Other than that, the place was as I said clean, but I never did feel comfortable there, and of all the places I stayed in, this was definitely not my favorite place to stay. But I did like the little cafes that lined the street where the apartment was located, and parking was perfect on the street, free of charge for the 4 days I stayed. And at $55 a night, I think it was overpriced compared to other places.

Regardless, I made the best of it and had an amazing time in the city I fell instantly in love with, and which warred already with my feelings for the others I had visited so far. I realized that each one had special and unique features about them- if push came to shove I would never be able to pin down which one I liked the best.

After getting settled, I asked an uber driver to take me to a place I could go shopping, and expected that to be somewhere in the central part of town. Instead she took me to a more modern area of the city and to a shopping mall. It was like being back in Canada and although it was not what I had been looking for, I enjoyed checking out the shops before taking a bus as close to the apartment as I could, and then another uber home. I had a delicious dinner at the sidewalk cafe in front of the apartment before turning in for the night.

The first experience I booked was was the second day of my trip and one I was probably looking forward to the most; Day Trip Riding Spanish Horses was $119 per person. It was also an additional charge of $45 euros for transportation so quite an expensive outing actually, but one I had my heart set on because of the description which read:

We will take you through a sun ridden stroll in the Spanish countryside. Our ranch is located just 30 minutes outside of Seville. Once you have arrived we will choose the right horse for you and go on a nice ride in the beautiful countryside. You will see olive groves, almond and orange gardens as well as pine trees. You will amaze yourself with the beauty of Spanish breed horses and their elegance. After approximately 1.45 -2 hours of riding we will head back where if we have time you can wash and brush your horse and have a drink to refresh and chill out before leaving the horses behind and head for Seville again. As there is no public transportation we try to help as much as possible and to organize your return transfer from and to a central location. The price for the transfer is roughly 35€-45€ which you can pay to your driver directly. Please let us know your experience level and address beforehand too. This activity is great for any age (4 years old above) and any experience level. However and because of your safety we reserve the right not to offer you a ride if you are not in good physical conditions or are overweight. Please ask us before to be on the safe side.

As luck would have it there was only one other person on the tour, however as she was basically a raw beginner, we went at an extremely slow pace to accommodate. I would have liked to have done a little trotting or gentle lope on parts of the trail that were ideal for it, but it was not to be. Our guide, the lovely and engaging Carmen, kept things interesting and fun during the 2.5 hour ride and I felt a real sense that she cared a great deal about the people she met through her job. And the horses we rode and saw around the lively barns and arenas, were beautiful. On the way home, our driver stopped at a lovely cafe and bought Tanya and I, a cold drink and waited patiently while we took our time chatting.

That evening I booked a tour with the same company, to take in an authentic Flamenco performance.

Enjoy a 100% Spanish night with Flamenco, tapas and a walking tour in one of the most beautiful neighborhood of Seville, Santacruz or Triana. Let the rythem, wine and dance inundate your memories of a magical night in Seville.

After much confusing as to where to meet ( I chose the wrong Santander Bank on the street) I finally met up with Ana who was to be my guide for the evening. Once again I was the only guest, which brings up the next point- September and October are fantastic times to visit Europe, especially if you want to avoid the crowds. Having a guide whose complete attention is on you, or smaller groups, makes for a wonderful tour. Ana was no exception and I felt we became friends after the tour, which ended far later than it was supposed to. As we wandered through the streets she imparted wonderful information about the neighborhood she actually grew up in. Part of the package (which was $104 ) included tapas and drinks. By the time we reached the restaurant where the performance was held, I was completely content and full of great food and booze. Another $18 euros covered the performance itself. (I must say as a side note that I prefer a price where everything is included as opposed to paying here and there, but that is a personal preference.)

Regardless, the performance was absolutely riveting and I enjoyed everything about the evening. Set in a small venue with a full audience of around 40 people, we got very close to the performers. I even had a chance to sit and chat with them beforehand, as Ana, a singer and belly dancer ( a coincidence) was a friend of theirs. It truly was a very special evening and as I left, Ana and I promised to stay in touch over Facebook.

One of the great things about meeting people along the way, are the opportunities to get great tips and recommendations of what to do and see. I decided that Day 3 would be spent on a hop on hop off bus, seeing the sights of the city, but Tanya from the horse tour told me about the wonderful baths that Seville is famous for. I immediately booked a session at 2 pm for the next day. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.

The baths, called Aire Ancient Baths, were absolutely fantastic. In addition to a relaxing 60 minute massage, I enjoyed the numerous hot pools of varying degrees as well as an ice cold plunge pool that took your breath away, but left me feeling amazingly refreshed. I even splurged on the chocolate and champagne at the end of my visit. To learn more about this wonderful place, and should you decide to go to Seville one day, go to https://beaire.com/es/aire-ancient-baths-sevilla. Highly recommended, and after a day of sightseeing, I was ready for the relaxation it provided.

That evening before heading home, I stopped at a lovely courtyard cafe and ate dinner to the sounds of a woman playing flamenco music. Bliss!

On my last day, I decided to try a segway tour through the streets of Seville. I had taken one at our local Horseshoe Resort here in Barrie years ago with my husband Jim, but it was through the forest on soft trails. I wasn’t sure how I would do through busy streets but I was if nothing else, determined to be adventurous on this trip.

Once again, I was the only person on the tour with my guide, a young and engaging man named Marcio – a fact which relieved me greatly as I had visions of crashing into people. The bike paths were perhaps not quite as extensive and people friendly as Barcelona, but I managed to keep up for the nearly 3 hours of the tour which was advertised as this: .

As soon as you come to the meeting point we will practice until you get comfortable with machines. I will explain you all the details about segway and show you how to drive. Some people think that it is difficult, however it is not true. It usually takes 5 minutes to become familiar with segway. During the tour i will take you to the old town and show you the most fascinating places of the city. We will glide through the small streets of Santa Cruz area, pass by fabrica de tobacco and end up in the Park of Maria Luisa. Sights: Cathedral, Alcazar, Fabrica de tobacco, Plaza de Espana, Plaza America, Jardines de Murillo, Parque de Maria Luisa, Guadalquivir river, Triana, Palacio San Telmo, Torre del Oro. I will share with you the most interesting facts about Seville history and of course the best places to visit, shop and eat. During the tour we will make a stop in a nice bar to try delicious local cousine. You will get to try 3 different tapas (included in the price). Don’t hesitate, give it a go.

Some of the places listed in the ad I had already seen on my bus tour, but now I had a guide who explained everything in much more detail. I loved everything but it was the Plaza de Espana that I could have happily spent a few more hours in- spectacular.

By now it was getting quite hot, but I had booked a tour to see The Giralda, which, according to Wikipedia is the bell tower of Seville Cathedral in Seville, Spain. It was built as the minaret for the Great Mosque of Seville in Moorish Spain in the reign of the Almohad dynasty, with a Renaissance-style top added by the Catholics after the expulsion of the Muslims from the area. After we toured the cathedral itself, a structure so beautiful it is impossible to adequately describe. Just go see it if you get a chance.

Next stop was The Alcázar of Seville, commonly known as the Royal Alcázars of Seville, a royal palace in Seville, Spain, built for the Christian king Peter of Castile. It was built by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville was a Alcazar and an in depth visit through the cathedral. Our guide was with a company called Skip The line Tours, a very efficient way to visit any site in any part of the world without endless line-ups. Plus, once again our guide Anna was amazingly knowledgeable and interesting. The cost, a mere $25 euros was again, well worth it in terms of information and the wonders of the historical sites.

Back at the apartment I made a point of packing early so that I could get a start first thing in the morning, and hopefully miss the traffic. I must say that the location of the apartment, although far from city center, was perfect for being close to the highway, and soon I was heading to my next destination and country- Tavira Portugal.

Granada

 Granada is a city in southern Spain’s Andalusia region, in the Sierra Nevada mountains’ foothills. It’s known for splendid examples of medieval architecture dating to the Moorish occupation, especially the Alhambra. This sprawling hilltop fortress complex encompasses royal palaces, serene patios, and reflecting pools from the Nasrid dynasty and the fountains and orchards of the Generalife gardens. I made a point of taking several walking tours that allow me to see all of this beautiful region.

Once I finally made my way out of Madrid, the trip to Granada was reasonably straightforward. My GPS kept trying to sidetrack me into the hills as a shorter route as I approached the city limits of Granada. I decided to follow it, and I ended up saving not only time but, as I found later, a potentially crazy time driving through the too windy and hilly streets of this fantastic City. I finally arrived at The Airbnb, which was as advertised: 

We offer a luxury independent bedroom and bathroom in a typical Andalusian house—close bus stop, besides the famous neighbourhood “Albaicín”. Live the Spanish culture within a family. TV and free Wi-Fi. Luxury, comfort and privacy with double bedroom. Private bathroom and all in a typical Andalusian atmosphere. In summertime, the guest can use the pool. The pool is communal and usually is open from 1st July to 1st September. However, this period can vary slightly. If you have a special interest, please ask us. There is free parking in the main Street for the guest that came by car.

If you are thinking to visit the Alhambra, book with time, cause sometimes all tickets are sold.

I was enchanted by the space that included a beautiful pink and white bedroom and my bathroom and sitting area on the small patio to myself. At only $52 Canadian, I was happy I had booked the three nights.

Alejandro and Delores’ hosts were terrific and pointed out things that I should see while there. I had already booked a tour for that afternoon, and after receiving directions, I headed downtown to the agency. 

Day 1

There were lots of walking tours to choose from, and it was hard to decide, but I ended up with this one, entitled Moorish and Gypsy Quarters Evening Walk

Join me through two of the most exciting areas of Granada. After taking a bus towards the high part of the Albaicin Quarter, we begin walking down the cobbled stone streets of the Moorish Quarter of Granada, still so authentic after so many centuries. You will think that we get lost in the winding streets of Albaicin …but that is not true… I know myself very well in the Quarter and will take you around in an easy and confident walk. In the evening, as the light turns down, the views of the Alhambra will leave you breathless because during the walk you will have several opportunities to see the Alhambra from different viewpoints and in different moments of light… some of them very popular, that you cannot miss in Granada and some others quite hidden. For many guests, this part of the experience makes the day! As well, do you want to know how the spirit of Flamenco is still alive in the gypsy Zambras? How gypsies settled and made their living inside a cave? We will talk about it in the Vereda de Enmedio, looking over the caves where they live. After two hours of tour, How about finishing with a nice conversation, in front of a tapa?

As with all the tour guides so far, Beatriz was perfect, knowledgeable and energetic. I liked that we would taxi to the top and make our way down because the roads were quite steep, and I was a little tired from my nearly 3-hour drive. The group was small and about on the same level physically, so there were a nice pace and sense of camaraderie that happened while we walked. The views were spectacular, and of course, the history lessons Beatriz gave us was riveting as we toured the Alhambra and the Gypsy community. Adela lived her childhood high in the hills and was able to tell us about the area from a firsthand point of reference and experience. The tour was $60, a little steep for a walking tour based on my experiences so far, but I think well worth the price based on all that I learned and saw. And the promised tapas and drink at the end of the day was a perfect ending.

Day 2- I spent the early part of the day poolside immediately next to the condo I was staying. The weather had been cooperating throughout my journey, and I enjoyed the downtime almost as much as the activity. But I had booked another tour for later at 5 pm.

I chose this particular tour Street Art & The Caves Tour because I have always liked graffiti-style art, and I wanted to photograph it. Although I knew I would possibly see some of the same areas of the tour the day before, this seemed like it would be different based on what the ad said:

We will be visiting three oldest neighbourhoods of Granada : Albayzin , Sacramonte , Realejo. Secret Gardens of Carmen de Los Martyres , Cuesta del Ray Chico and the highest viewpoints in the City. We will follow the best STREET ART around and enter the oldest cave houses in the Gypsy neighbourhood. We will visit the very hidden gems of Granada. Amazing Photos Guaranteed!!! 23 Euros!

It turns out I was correct. Michael, our host, showed a much different and exciting tour than did Beatriz. Although both were equally great and did cover some of the same ground, they were unique and complimented each other somehow. Michael’s tour started us at the bottom of the hill in the centre of town and led us through many streets which featured some of the most incredible street art I had ever seen. The tour took 4 hours up some reasonably steep climbs. On seeing that some of us were not thrilled with the other climbing, Michael arranged for us to take a taxi to a viewpoint and the rest of the group would meet us on top later. It was a perfect solution and after my 5-hour tour the day before, one that my feet could appreciate. 

Unlike the day before, we were able to enter one of the cave homes for a snack and drink and speak to the owner and her family. We learned that as Gypsies, they had lived in the cave houses for generations- probably centuries. 

Michael also recommended a couple of places to eat. After a shower and change of clothes for the evening, I ventured down to the city centre, my not so trusty GPS in hand. Of course, as usual, I got lost. Just as I was about to give up, I bumped into one of the young men on the tour, also from Canada. I tagged along with he and his friend. At the restaurant was the rest of the group who had also taken Michael’s suggestion and we had a little party in the corner of the restaurant. 

Which just proved my point that you don’t always have to travel with someone to enjoy a trip. I find that being alone forces you out of your comfort zone. I certainly made some beautiful connections during this trip, and never felt lonely at any time as there was always someone to talk to along the way I found

Day 3- The next morning, I headed downtown to do some shopping and get myself lost in the City’s incredibly narrow streets. It was like stepping back in time- both romantic and mysterious. The Gypsy vibe fascinated me. After a few hours wandering and taking photos, I purchased a couple of trinkets and a beautiful skirt and headed back to my quarters for a rest for yet another walking tour that evening. 

Both of the walking tours I had done had taken us alongside the palace and buildings, but not inside. My B&B hosts suggested that I purchase tickets to get an even better understanding of the Alhambra and visit the famous gardens. I booked through Skip the Line for the next day in the late afternoon and happily made my way with a small group of tourists through the many buildings and palaces that made up the Alhambra. Our guide Adela was excellent and like all the others, extremely knowledgeable. 

By the end of the tour, I was overwhelmed from all I had seen, experienced and learned and knew I needed to find some time to be. I visited the famous Granada Cathedral and wandered the streets for photo ops, of which there were plenty, of beautiful buildings, fountains and people.

The next morning my host Alejandro accompanied me in my rental car to a place where I could pick up the highway without getting lost along the way. My next destination was Seville, but I know that I will never forget the magic and wonder of Granada in a million years.

.

Girlfriend Getaway in Quebec

A mere couple weeks after I returned from my trip to Europe, I had already started to get the travel bug. When friend Glenna suggested that she and I do a “road trip” to Gattineau to see our friend Mouna, I naturally jumped at the chance.

For those that don’t know, Gatineau is a city in western Quebec, Canada. It is the fourth-largest city in the province after Montreal, Quebec City, and Laval. It is located on the northern bank of the Ottawa River, immediately across from Ottawa, together with which it forms Canada’s National Capital Region. Now you know- thanks Wikileaks.

The drive itself was pleasant but at least an hour longer than we anticipated as we chose the “scenic route”. Still, with a good friend along for the ride, it certainly wasn’t boring and we had a great time doing our best Thelma and Louise imitation. Plus, our ETA was not until 3:00 as Mouna was working that day. We arrived 30 minutes later which I thought was good considering.

For the next couple hours we decided to wander the Byward Market, shopping, and generally checking out the scene. I could have easily spent several more hours there as we barely scratched the surface of all there was to see and do. We met a lovely woman in one of the shops who recommended several clubs we could visit the next evening, but for our first night together, we decided to pick up take-out and chill with a good bottle of wine.

My not so trusty Garmin GPS, failed us miserably and we ended up in a remote town a good 40 minutes from where we needed to be. (Apparently getting lost is my MO). A panic call to our host was unsatisfactory as the woman who answered the phone number that was given us on the reservation form, had no idea who were were and worse, did not have our reservation on file. She called her boss who owned 30 B&B’s in the area, and she soon learned that although not one of his properties, he was taking on one of a friend’s. This time we used our google maps on the phone, and after picking up our food, arrived at our destination, tired, cold but still in good spirits.

Unfortunately the key-less lock system was not working and we could not get in. After numerous tries we called our host again for help. Long and short, somehow when Glenna retried the code, the door opened, this time it opened to a beautiful, as advertised Airbnb, perfect for 3 gals on a getaway.

The next morning Mouna suggested a trip to a little town about 40 minutes from Gattineau where we were staying called Wakefield. Our google once again played tricks on us and turned us around a couple times, but now we were on to it. And it was good for a laugh anyway. Hilariously we decided that we would use the Garmin as well as both our phones and pick the directions most likely to be right.

Eventually we arrived in the beautiful town of Wakefield and stopped at a lovely little cafe for a snack and tea. Glenna, being the friendly person she is, struck up a conversation with a very distinguished gentleman by the name of Al Skaw, who as it turned out was a published author and artist.

Photo book by Al Skaw

The town of Wakefield was utterly charming and we spent over 5 hours, exploring, shopping and taking beautiful photos. We met some wonderful locals who told us that we picked the best time to come as the summer was crazy with tourists, especially July and August. Soon, however, the area would fill up again around Christmas time. In such a setting we could only imagine how beautiful it would be in the winter. We were so enchanted with the area we half decided that we should buy a bed and breakfast together and live here forever! Aren’t dreams wonderful?

The town of Wakefield was utterly charming and we spent over 5 hours, exploring, shopping and taking beautiful photos. We met some wonderful locals who told us that we picked the best time to come as the summer was crazy with tourists, especially July and August. Soon, however, the area would fill up again around Christmas time. In such a setting we could only imagine how beautiful it would be in the winter. We were so enchanted with the area we half decided that we should buy a bed and breakfast together and live here forever! Aren’t dreams wonderful?

After our tour we headed back to the Airbnb to rest. The original plan was to head back to Byward Market but I unfortunately was completely wiped, so a nap for the 3 of us won over instead. But later, after eating the leftovers from the night before, we decided to check out a couple of the places recommended to us, near the market. This time we found our way easily and parked right across the street from our first stop, The Rainbow Bistro.

The owner informed us of the $30 cover charge, and explained because the band was from Detroit, a famous blues band known as Shawn Holt. Not entirely true as the Teardrop band members were actually a pick up band from Canada- probably because Shawn’s own band could not get across the border for one reason or another. But we paid our money and luckily, the band was incredible.

Again, Glenna’s friendly nature attracted yet another male admirer and soon we found “Malcolm” hovering over us for the rest of the evening. Harmless, but we weren’t sure exactly how all there he was so we ditched the club, and him and made our way to the next recommendations. By now it was bone -chilling cold and we laughed at the scantily clad young women standing on the sidewalk, waiting in front of the various clubs. They all looked so young, we pretty much figured it was not our scene and decided to head home a respectable 1:30 am.

The next morning after a fairly good sleep on so-so beds, we stopped at a lovely Parisian style bakery for breakfast called Premiere Maison. I felt like I had stepped back in time to Europe, again and had a hard time choosing from the array of sandwiches, deserts and breads, but I finally decided on an excellent quiche.

After saying somewhat tearful goodbyes, we headed through pouring rain back to Barrie. This time we took the major routes (it still took nearly 6 hours in Sunday traffic), but a stop at the Apple Hut near Cobourg, Ontario, broke up the monotony.

Definitely we had decided that it would be good to go back and explore other areas a little more. June perhaps?