The Best Cantinas in Mexico City

I have no problem at all admitting that I hang out in bars when I travel, and believe it or not, it’s actually not entirely about the drinks. No, nearly every country in the world has managed to develop its own unique style of traditional drinking den, which often up offering some of the best insights into the country itself.

Britain has the pub, America has the dive bar, Japan has the izakaya, and Mexico has the cantina, quite possibly my favorite one of them all. Yes, the humble cantina, like the aforementioned styles of bar, is a laid back place to mingle, tip ‘em back, and savor the true taste of Mexico.

While you’ll find cantinas all over the country, the capital is home to the highest concentration, and here are a few of the best cantinas in Mexico City, all located within the gorgeous historic center.

Cantina La Mascota

La Mascota has been serving up cheap drinks and tasty food for decades, and is a great first cantina to get your feet wet in. It may not look like much on the outside, but you’ll soon find a room oozing the charms of yesteryear on the inside lined with intricate tiles and splashes of maroon and yellow on the walls. Waiters sporting sharp vests and bowties gregariously work the room, delivering drinks and food with a smile, and the delicious food is on the casa along as you’re drinking. Keep an eye out for traditional singers, who have been known to pop in and serenade the crowd.

Address: Mesones 20

Tel: +52 5709-7852  

La Faena

If you like a side of bullfighting memorabilia with your beer (and who among us hasn’t craved that combo before), then La Faena is definitely your spot. A sprawling space full of vibrant tiles and plastic white tables, the walls here are lined with a plethora of bullfighting paraphernalia, and the bar serves up the classic cantina combo of cold beer, tequila, and absolutely no frills.

Address: Venustiano Carranza 49

Telephone: +52 5510-4417   

La Dominica

Rough, ready, and a really good time, La Dominica has been pouring drinks for over 60 years, picking up a very loyal local following along the way. Retro-cool baby blue walls (it’s not ironic, trust me) grab your attention when you stroll in, and are complemented perfectly by dark wooden tables and an antique cash register. This is another cantina where the food is complimentary as long as you’re drinking, and all of it is doled out a dapper veteran staff of bartenders, some of whom have been staples here for decades.

Address: Belisario Dominguez 61

Telephone: 5512 7977

La Opera

The most famous of all cantinas in Mexico City, no crawl would be complete without a drink here. Opulent isn’t a word that’s typically used to describe cantinas, but I’ll be darned if it doesn’t fit La Opera like a glove. Crown molding, engraved wood, plush red booths, and elegant light make it feel more like a Viennese cafe than a hole-in-the-wall, even though they are famous for a hole in their wall. Yes, legend has it that a bullet lodged in their ceiling was fired by famous Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, and even though some would argue this place is too ‘posh’ to be a proper cantina, with that kind of street cred, I’m counting it.

Address: Calle 5 de Mayo No. 10

Telephone: +52 5512-8959   

 

An earlier version of this post appeared on TravelPulse

 

You Could Always Go to Langkawi

langkawi

While places like Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, and Krabi are usually the first spots penciled in on a trip to the shores of Southeast Asia’s Andaman Sea, I’d like to humbly suggest another for your consideration: Langkawi.

The aforementioned Thai jewels are definitely some of the region’s most ravishing, but I’m telling you, the Malaysian island of Langkawi can more than hang with them. Yes, Langkawi flies slightly under the radar, but you could always still go there, because it’s got some fantastic beaches and landscapes, and just an all-around great vibe.

And here’s some stuff to know to get started on your daydreaming.

How to Get There

Getting to Langkawi is a breeze, as the island is home to both a very modern airport and a bustling ferry terminal. Flights arrive primarily from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore on budget airlines like Air Asia and Tiger, so you’ll have to connect there. Ferries float to Langkawi from regional towns like Penang, and it was this fairly pleasant nearly-three-hour journey that was the method I used to arrive on Langkawi.

langkawi

What to Get up To

Langkawi’s big draw is the unspoiled nature of its nature, as an overwhelming majority of its native forest remains intact. In fact, all of Langkawi (including its 99 minor outlying islands) was made a UNESCO Geo Park in 2007. These wondrous natural attributes can be appreciated in both active and passive ways.

On the active side of things, jungle trekking amongst wildlife (including monkeys, bird-watching, sailing, and kayaking through lush mangroves) are all popular options, with a stroll up to the legendary Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls (also known as Seven Wells, pictured above) probably the most popular activity on the island. This gem cascades down monstrous boulders, collecting in seven pools ideal for wading and splashing, with a view out to sea to boot. You’ll earn the cooldown too, because the trek up hundreds of sometimes slippery steps isn’t for the faint of heart.

langkawi

Relaxing on the beach is the best way to passively take in Langkawi’s stunning natural scenes, and the main beach you’ll want to hang at is Pantai Cenang. It’s made of sugary white sand and is lined with plenty of food and drink options, including Babylon Mat Lounge, one of the coolest beach bars I’ve ever been to. Slightly more hidden beaches abound though, like Sandy Skulls, which despite the shady name, is home to the clearest water on the island.

Somewhere in-between is the Langkawi Cable Car and Skywalk which lifts you high into the island’s interior, offering sweeping views of Langkawi’s teal seas and green trees from above.

langkawi

How to Get Around

Public transportation is severely lacking on Langkawi, so renting a car or a motor scooter is the smart move for day trips and activities. This gives you the freedom to seek out hidden spots for food, or just spontaneously stop on the side of the road at a place serving street food out of a van like we did. We were the only tourists there, and we had our best meal on the island on their plastic red chairs.

Where to Stay

Langkawi is home to a massive range of accommodation options, from The Four Seasons – stunningly set amongst rugged limestone cliffs – to the budget-friendly beachside place we stayed for a couple of nights called The Cabin.  The island is popular among honeymooners, with all-inclusive resorts specializing in romantic packages.

 

An earlier version of this post appeared on TravelPulse

Great British Pub Walks: The Watermans Arms, Bow Bridge

watermans arms bow bridge

Walking is hands-down one of the most popular pastimes in my newly adopted home of Britain, and since I was recently in South Devon (easily one of its most ravishing regions), I figured it was time to get out there and give it a whirl. 

While great British walks take many forms, from treks along peaks and rocky coasts to gentle ambles through magnificent middles of nowhere, there was only one type of walk that I wanted to tackle first: the pub walk.

Yes, the venerable pub walk is the art of strolling for a few hours in the countryside and then settling in for a pint and a hearty meal, and I assure you, you’re definitely going to want to take one when you come here next.

Luckily for all of us, there is an extensive network of trails here, making it easy to plan a stroll that passes right by a cozy, inviting, and ‘pinch-me-I’m-in-Britain’ pub. We chose to walk from the lovely riverside town of Totnes to the Watermans Arms at Bow Bridge, and it went a little something like this:

After observing how the Totnes locals live (rather eclectically as it turns out), we bid farewell and gently climbed into the hills, being immediately covered by a canopy of greenery – a much welcome shelter on a sunny day.

watermans arms bow bridge

It only took a few minutes for the other reason we chose this walk to come into focus on the left: the River Dart. The path we were trodding on, The Dart Valley Trail, mostly follows right along this river, offering vistas down to the water and the idyllic hills opposite. Docked sailboats dominated the scene at first, but soon gave way to serene scenes of slow-moving water and marsh.

We snapped a few photos, continued on our path, and before we knew it, were surrounded by a field full of furry beasts. They’re called sheep, and while this may seem unusual, public foothpaths in Britain make their way across all sorts of privately-owned farms; but as long as you close the gate behind you, you are welcome and, most importantly, legally allowed.

After that, it was a bit of an ascent to Ashprington, a quaint-as-can-be village filled with cottages, a 14th Century church, and no visible signs to Bow Bridge, where the Watermans Arms is located.

watermans arms bow bridge

Undeterred, we pressed on, and after a few minutes and one “if we don’t see it around this corner, we’re turning back”, we heard water burbling from behind a thicket of trees, and turned the corner to find the Watermans Arms in all its glory. We crossed the medieval stone bridge and claimed a table right by the creek, where we relaxed, dined, and Instagrammed in travel heaven.

watermans arms bow bridge

Residing in a rustic 17th Century cottage-style inn adorned with flowers besides a babbling brook, even if they had served average food here it would have been a trip-making experience. Far from it though, as we were impressed with the Watermans Arms fare from start to finish, and for a first pub walk, it couldn’t have been more perfect.

We couldn’t linger too long though, as a decadent Devonshire Cream Tea back in quirky and cool Totnes was waiting for us.

Yep, I think I am going to like this walking thing.

watermans arms bow bridge

Good To Know If You Go:

Length: Approximately 6.5 miles or two hours (ish) round-trip. Map and more info here.

Steepness – 3/10 (one 10 minute uphill stretch).

What to Order: We loved our lobster & crab burgers, and they pair perfectly with a glass of white wine from the Watermans Arms’ impressive list or a fresh-poured pint of real ale.

 

An earlier version of this post appeared on TravelPulse

 

Travelly Picture: Beer Above Bacharach, Germany

Bacharach is a pretty town on the Rhine River in Germany. Above the town there is this cool hostel called Burg Stahleck, where you can have a beer on their terrace like I did.

 

bacharach germany

Set Sail For Salcombe, South Devon

Salcombe south devon

Conventional wisdom says the best way to make an arrival into a harbor town is to come gliding towards its shores on the bow of a boat. You know; the wind in your hair, the sun bouncing off your shades, the sweater tied around your neck (just in case), and the beauty of the town coming further into focus as you bob ever closer.

Well, I sailed in to Salcombe, South Devon in a rental car, and I ended up falling in love just the same.

Why?

The Coastline

It was in that car on the hills above Salcombe where I saw the South Devon Coast for the first time – for a fleeting moment through a frame of leaves – and this specific slice of shore was all it took to become infatuated with both the region in general and Salcombe in particular.

I was behind the wheel, so I couldn’t pay too much attention, but what I managed to see in that split second was enough to send my imagination running wild: untamed waves crashing on stones, sea foam being flung, and a backdrop of tropical trees and caramel beaches I never knew existed in England.

salcombe south devon

The Vacation Vibe

After regaining my breath from the view above town, we parked our car and strolled into town, where things got even better. Our route took us by plenty of pastel cottages – most adorned with cursive wrought-iron signs announcing names like ‘Home Sea Home’ – docked sailboats, squawking seagulls, and stacks of crab baskets. Kids were fishing for crustaceans from the dock as parents watched on, creating a downright heartwarming (did I just stype heartwarming?) holiday scene. Above it all sat the softest rolling hills you could imagine, in swaths of green and straw.

salcombe south devon

Basically, the town felt like every summer vacation anyone’s ever taken has been bottled up and brought to this little corner of South Devon. As we strolled past the boutiques selling boat shoes and other assorted garments that complement sea legs, we only had one question on our mind: what’s for dinner?

winking prawn salcombe

The Winking Prawn

We have a bad habit of showing up somewhere on our first night of a trip without the slightest clue of where to eat, and it tends to work out great every time … fifty percent of the time. The Winking Prawn (of course they have a restaurant called the Winking Prawn in Salcombe) ended up being a godsend.

We stumbled into The Winking Prawn after a fifteen minute stroll from the harbor that took us past stately homes and lush gardens, and this pink-hued beach shack dished up some of the most mouth-watering sea bream and cider (Hunt’s Sparkling Heritage, if you’re wondering) I’ve ever had. They’ve also got one of those ‘kitchsy-but-cute’ wooden boards where you stick your head through a hole to make it look like you are actually a sea creature, and we all know you can’t ever pass one of those up.

salcombe south devon

The Ferry-ing

Being located on an estuary certainly has its advantages (like the spectacular natural scenes I described above, alongside fantastically fresh seafood), but there are some practicalities that need tending to in a place like Salcombe: namely, getting to the other side. Luckily, there are a handful of romantic ‘foot-passenger only’ ferries plying these waters, and they add another layer of allure to this seaside town. Ferries set off for neighboring East Portlemouth all year round, and seasonably to upriver Kingsbridge and local beaches. Even if you don’t take a trip for yourself, toasting the ferries at The Ferry Inn like we did – with a view to the water where the ferries float – is a great way to while a way an hour or two.

 

An earlier version of this post appeared on TravelPulse

Travelly Picture: Hallgrímskirkja Church, Iceland

This is Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik, Iceland. I think it’s cool for two reasons: it’s unusual looking and there’s also a statue of the famous explorer Leif Erikson outside of it.

 

Hallgrímskirkja Iceland

 

 

The Best Baths in Budapest

Like most top-notch tourist draws in the world, before most travelers even arrive in Budapest, they’ll typically have a slideshow of iconic images swirling in their mind.

Paramount among the scenes of Budapest is the drop-dead gorgeous Hungarian Parliament building, the regal set of bridges that span the Danube, and naturally, the sight of a bunch of half-naked old dudes playing chess in an outdoor pool.

Oh, it’s true, but those guys aren’t just hanging out in any old pools, these concrete ponds are proper thermal baths.

Budapest’s baths are legendary, with the city’s serendipitous spot over hundreds of hot springs to thank. This combination of geology and geography led to the building of a bevy of formal baths centuries ago, and the subsequent proliferation of tales touting their healing powers. These baths have been a huge part of the fabric of the city ever since, and no trip to Budapest is complete without a dip. So, to help you get your feet wet, here is a list of some of the best baths in Budapest, and what they are best suited for.

gellert baths budapest

Most Beautiful BathGellért Baths

This is one of the the most famous in town, and it is also the most beautiful bath in Budapest. The Gellért  Baths reside in a palatial Art Nouveau building, and will have you feeling like royalty when you wade into its waters. Grand adornments abound, like pillars, sculptures, and colorful mosaics that lend an air of opulence to the bathing. And that’s just inside. Outside, the pools are just as lavish, set amongst gorgeous gardens and even featuring a wave pool in summer.

Szechenyi baths budapest

Best Bath For ‘Pinch Me, I’m In Budapest’ Moments Széchenyi Baths

This is the biggest bath, the most popular bath, and if you’re curious, the one with the iconic chess players. A golden-colored candyland-esque castle inside Budapest’s City Park, with its 18 pools, Széchenyi is among the largest thermal pool complexes in Europe. You’ll find whirlpools and underwater jets here, and most uniquely, Széchenyi is open all year round, with a steamy wintry bath a truly unique experience.  

dandar bath budapest

Best ‘Off The Beaten Bath’ BathDandar Bath

When we were in Budapest, we stumbled across this hidden gem, and it was a true revelation. We only discovered it by walking past, and took a gamble that it would be fun to see what the lesser known spas were like. While it won’t win any style points (Gellért took them all, anyway), it is laid back, budget-friendly (about a third of the price of the big boys), and almost exclusively used by locals. I can personally attest, that I had been plagued by a sore shoulder for weeks before I visited Dandar, but walked out without any pain, and years later, it hasn’t returned.

Best Historic Bath – Király Bath

This bath feels like a step back in time and a trip to the East combined. Built when Budapest was under Ottoman rule in the 1500s, it maintains its original Turkish architecture (stone walls, arched doorways, and domes) to this day, with the spa’s fading glory only serving to add to its appeal. Király isn’t the biggest spa in town, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with centuries of character and and soothing waters filled with a unique mix of minerals to help mend the body and massage the soul.

 

Photo Credit

An earlier version of this post first appeared on TravelPulse

Travelly Picture: Hope Cove, South Devon, England

We went on summer vacation to South Devon, and I took this picture of this little town called Hope Cove from the Southwest Coastal Path. I recommend doing the same to anyone.

 

hope cove

A Quest to Buy Westvleteren 12 Beer at the Sint Sixtus Abbey

Westvleteren1

By all accounts, the good monks at the Sint Sixtus Abbey in Vleteren, Belgium produce some of the most heavenly brews on earth. And one of their beers, Westvleteren 12, is regarded by many who know way more about beer than me as the world’s finest. In fact, if you punch in ‘world’s best beer’ on everybody’s favorite search engine, these Trappist boys are the first non-listicle result that pops up.

To say the process of acquiring Westvleteren 12 is complicated is to understate the murkiness of the proceedings.

The monks aren’t in it for the money, so they don’t brew a ton of beer, and what they do brew, they don’t distribute to bars or stores. No, they choose to only sell crates directly to people at their abbey, with each person only allowed to purchase once every 60 days. This, inevitably, leads to a thriving black market in the beer, with bottles being sold with a wink-and-a-nod all over the world at jacked up prices; and a ton of people out there making some serious cash posing as innocent locals every two months.

But I digress.

It’s supposed to work like this: you call them ahead, they take down your details (including your license plate), then you show up at an agreed-upon time and pick up your suds.

That didn’t work out so well for me.

Ever since I found out I would be in their neck-of-the-woods, I started calling. For months. It was always busy. I could never get through. It was frustrating, I mean, what were these monks busy doing, praying?

So, I figured I would just show up and see what happens.

Poperinge Belgium

After swerving through several roundabouts in nearby Poperinge (a place so renowned for their beer hops, they have giant statues of them), playing a game of ‘Wait, Is This A One Way Street?’ in the maze-like town center, and badgering sidewalk-strolling Belgians for directions, we arrived at the legendary Sint Sixtus Abbey.

The cars ahead of us were full of black market beer barons, I mean genteel locals all exchanging pleasantries with a chipper man who had been assigned the task of dishing out the beer and, it must be noted, bore a striking resemblance to Steven Avery from Making A Murderer. 

Everyone seemed so nice and friendly, that my confidence swelled.

Westvleteren 12

“This is going to be easy”, I thought.

Our turn came, I pulled ahead, and the beer man grabbed his clipboard and, yeah, started scrutinizing our car and license plate like he was working a border crossing. I rolled down the window, and in my best Flemish (which is English, by the way) pleaded “we don’t have a reservation, sir, but we came all the way from England, and I called for months, and I have a sick dog at home whose dream is to taste Westvleteren 12”. Or something like that.

Being an American used to warm and cuddly customer service, I expected to hear him say:

“Well, you’re technically supposed to have a reservation, but since you came all this way and you seem nice, go ahead and take some beer, and you know what, don’t even worry about paying for it”.

Sadly, that didn’t happen. The monk beer man ended the dream right then and there on the spot. I was crushed. We had come all this way, we had come so close to sipping the nectar of the gods, only to be rejected and leave parched and with an empty trunk.

But then he told us we could buy the beer over at their cafe, In de Vrede, which we subsequently found out is the only place in the world where it is sold in a retail setting. We drove over, bought a twelve pack of Westvleteren 12, and headed for home with smiles on our faces.

Westvleteren 12

Things officially became happily ever after though when we made it back home and I poured the first bottle. The mahogany-brown Westvleteren 12 flowed from its vessel like holy water, overflowing with toasty notes that tickled the nose and a creamy off-white head that pleased the eyes. As I finally sipped the sweet and smoky strong Belgian beer, I immediately knew what all the hype was about, and I was already starting to think about a return trip.

 

 

Abbey photo credit

An earlier version of this post appeared on TravelPulse

Travelly Picture: Hong Kong Skyline

I dreamed about going to Hong Kong forever, and most of that was because of the skyline. Here’s a picture I took of it from some mountain above town.

honk kong skyline