Monthly Archives: May 2018

This Luxurious lounges and hipster haunts In Venice

Venice may not be renowned for its nightlife, with most of its citizens tucking themselves in bed well before midnight, but Venetians do like a tipple, particularly at aperitivo time.

The city boasts more bars than you can shake a cocktail stick at, from spectacular rooftop views to hole-in-the-wall music joints, and whether you prefer to be shaken or stirred, our list will help you find your perfect watering hole.

Take in the view from Giudecca’s Skyline Bar

There are plenty of reasons to love rooftop Skyline Bar, despite its slightly awkward location on Giudecca island. First off, you get a free shuttle service from the city across the Giudecca Canal. Secondly, it offers great views of southern Venice and thus multiple photo ops. Then there is the lengthy – and idiosyncratically translated – cocktail menu. A nice touch has been to provide a Venetian take on the classics, with the drinks covering the six sestieri (districts) of the city. The free boat ride makes a cocktail (€16-20) at this glamorous hotel bar an affordable treat.

Join the young, hip crowd at Osteria da Filo

Known to locals as ‘La Poppa’, this buzzing watering hole has a great wine list and cocktail selection (€3.50-6), including the Zaza, a mean house speciality involving copious amounts of rum and fresh ginger. One of the few venues in Venice offering live music (early evening on Wednesdays), Osteria da Filo is crammed with a young hipster and alternative crowd. On Wednesdays, arrive early to grab a comfy sofa or seat near the stage; alternatively, squeeze yourself in at the bar. The music ranges from traditional swing to contemporary jazz with local and international acts performing. The staff are friendly and the mood convivial.

Bring out your inner Bond on the Terrazza Danieli

A Venetian institution, the Danieli Hotel has been frequented by James Bond, as well as featuring in 2010 comedy The Tourist. From May to September, the Terrazza Danieli is open for aperitifs on the roof. Take in the stunning views of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Doge’s Palace as you sip on a soothing Bellini (cocktails €15-18) after the heat of the day. In winter, head to the ground floor bar for a cosier aperitif.

Drink in the luxury at the Bar Longhi

The newly restored Bar Longhi at the Gritti Palace hotel is sumptuous, elegant and the epitome of luxury. The interior is all marble and Murano glass and even boasts paintings by eighteenth-century artist and local son Pietro Longhi. The bar has a delicious eponymous signature cocktail, the Longhi, consisting of Campari, vermouth and stock orange liqueur, as well as an extensive cocktail list (€19-22). Sink into a plush sofa as you look out onto the Grand Canal in one of the loveliest hotels in the city.

Sip on a sun-downer at the Villa Laguna

During summer one of the best places in the city for a sun-downer is the bar at the Villa Laguna hotel on the Lido. The decking is right on the waterfront and offers a view of the city and her islands. Brush the sand off your feet after a day on the beach, order a spritz or classic cocktail (€12-16) and check out the setting sun as it steeps Venice and the lagoon is a rich rosy-orange glow. The Lido might boast fancier hotels with views of the Adriatic Sea, but none of them can match a summer sunset seen from here.

Gaze on the Grand Canal at Ancora

Offering outdoor seating overlooking the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal, swish Ancora (ancoravenezia.it) is ideal for lunchtime aperitifs among the hubbub of the market. Indoor evenings are a more relaxed affair, though the place gets pretty full at aperitif time. Plates of mixed cold cuts, local fish or Normandy oysters can be washed down with a fine array of cocktail options (€9-15). There is live music occasionally and the bar closes late (by Venetian standards), at 2am.

Exotic and inventive cocktails at classy Il Mercante

At the foot of the bridge in Campo dei Frari, this Venetian stalwart (ilmercantevenezia.com) has recently undergone a facelift and is now all velvet sofas and low lighting. Though offering great breakfasts and snacks, as well as mouth-watering lunch options, this pretty bar changes management at cocktail hour and becomes a creature of the night. An inventive and fabulous cocktail selection (€8-16) is conjured up before your very eyes by Alessandro and his knowledgeable and super-friendly staff. They occasionally squeeze in some live music in the early evening. And if you grab a sofa upstairs by the window, you will be facing the impressive Gothic facade of the Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.

Get cosy with the locals at Osteria All’Alba

A bar the size of a postage stamp, this rough and ready haunt is a favourite with Venetians. Hidden down a side street at the bottom of the Rialto Bridge, music lovers and drinkers converge at Osteria All’Alba for DJ sets, cocktails and bar snacks – the mini sandwiches with inventive fillings are a particular favourite. This is neither the prettiest bar in town, its walls covered in messages from previous patrons, nor the classiest, but the cocktails (€5-8) and lively atmosphere more than compensate for any dearth of elegance. Classy decor and unmatched views at Blind Spot © Michael Faggiani / Blind Spot

Find inner beauty at Mestre’s Blind Spot

While not actually in Venice itself, this swish new bar (cocktaillab.it) is worth the bus ride across the causeway to Mestre (Venice’s mainland district). Situated in a tower in a supermarket car park, the inauspicious location makes the surprise even greater when you arrive on the 18th floor and find yourself in glamorous surroundings that are more redolent of Milan than workaday Mestre. A dazzling array of traditional and new-fangled cocktails (€9-12) are served with supreme elegance by the gracious waiting staff. Sit back and gasp at the views from the closest thing to a skyscraper in the area. And if you’re not too squiffy, you can continue your evening at the equally wonderful Japanese restaurant Aki on the floor below.

Wine and dine in style at Caffè Centrale

One of the first cocktail lounge bars to open in the city, this venue tucked in a quiet street behind St Mark’s Square hasn’t lost its appeal. If you are coming by taxi or gondola you can make a classy and dramatic entrance by mooring at the bar’s private dock. Along with its heftily priced but delicious food menu, Caffè Centrale serves a mean cocktail (€9-18), with classics intertwined with imaginative new concoctions. Book the table on the tiny deck to enjoy the gondolas gliding by as you imbibe.

Travel at Castles, cairns and gin-making in the Boyne Valley

Ireland’s west coast may have the wild coastline, but the east is the country’s historic heartland. Set within striking distance of Dublin, the Boyne Valley’s rich soils and rolling hills have been occupied and battled over for millennia. As a result, ancient tombs rub shoulders with Norman castles and peaceful canals bisect battlefields.

And as well as past glories, there’s food and drink to set your lips smacking.

Older than the Pyramids: Brú na Bóinne

At first glance, the famous cairns that cluster around the River Boyne, in counties Meath and Louth might elicit a shrug – most are simple passages leading into small chambers. But the more you look, the more fascinating they get.

Almost 100 Neolithic monuments make up the World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne (‘the Palace of the Boyne’), many dating from around 3200 BC, making them around seven centuries older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. They’re decorated with strange swirls and shapes and aligned with the sun and the landscape, yet so distant are their pre-Celtic creators that archaeologists are still guessing how the great stones were transported (possibly by river, or even rolled on seaweed) and whether they were built to honour the dead, the sun or the sea.

Stone Age magic at Newgrange and Loughcrew

Newgrange is the largest and most popular tomb, as well as the easiest to visit, via buses from the nearby visitor centre. Its 80m diameter is impressive, but the real thrill comes when you clamber through its dark tunnel, feeling the silence under muffled breath and gazing up at the enormous sandstone roof slabs as your heart stills and your eyesight sharpens. It’s hard not to feel a thorough connection to the living history of this place, an impression that swells as you stumble back out into the bright light and gentle hills of the surrounding farmland.

A trip to Loughcrew can be even more magical. That’s partly due to the lovely 15-minute walk from the winding R154 road, which takes you on a fairly steep climb into the Loughcrew Hills and views that stretch towards Dublin on one side and the Mourne Mountains on the other. And it’s partly due to the silence – even the most famous monument here, Cairn T, sees far fewer visitors than Newgrange. In summer, there are guides here to show you around (late April to end August), while in winter you can pick up a key from the visitor centre.

The feeling of epic discovery is heightened by the fact – only rediscovered in the 20th century – that the amber light of morning pierces the chamber at Cairn T (on the spring and autumn equinoxes) and Newgrange (at the winter equinox), bathing their mysterious symbols in a warmth and life that belies their age. At Newgrange, there’s a lottery for the winter equinox, and if you’re not lucky enough to get a place, at the end of each standard tour an artificial light is shone, mimicking its glorious effect.

Druids, monks and mercenaries

Subsequent visitors also left their mark in this fertile region. The Celts (who decided the impressive cairns must be the work of the faerie folk) arrived around 500 BC. You can ponder the roots they laid at Tara, where a hill marks the seat of the druids and the ceremonial capital of the high kings of Ireland.

Christianity arrived around 500 AD, and Irish monasteries became vital centres of European scholarship – the market town of Kells gave its name to the magnificent Book of Kells, now displayed in Dublin’s Trinity College. The monastery that was its home for six centuries is no more, but you can explore its ruins, including a 30m-tall round tower.

Twenty kilometres south of here, at a bend in the Boyne, Trim Castle is grand enough to have featured as no less than three castles (Edinburgh, York and the Tower of London) in the film Braveheart. Its atmospheric keep offers wonderful views of the countryside around, and a very solid reminder of another set of arrivals: Normans who came as mercenaries and ended up as rulers.

The Boyne’s game of thrones

The Boyne Valley was accustomed to being at the heart of Irish affairs, but in 1690 it was the site of a battle that shaped European history. Over 60,000 troops clashed a few kilometres west of Drogheda (now one of the best bases for exploring the region), as James II and his son-in-law William of Hanover fought for the British Isles. Despite the valiant efforts of the Jacobite cavalry, William’s larger, better-equipped force won the day – James fled to France, winning the nickname Seamus a’ chaca (‘James the shit’), and cementing the power of Protestant landowners and clergy across Ireland.

The site today is home to an enjoyable visitor centre, which explains the twists and turns of the battle via exhibits and video.

The landscape of the Boyne Valley isn’t the most stunning in Ireland – there’s a fair bit of commuter-belt sprawl around these lovely rolling hills. But you can give your explorations a focus by taking a boat trip up the nearby Boyne Navigation canal with Boyne Boats (boyneboats.ie). A paddle up this quiet waterway on a traditional currach is a wonderfully intimate experience – the boats were used in the filming of Game of Thrones, making them an ideal spot from which to ponder the ambition and bloodshed of the conflict.

Kings, rock and whiskey

With power came wealth, and the stately homes of Anglo-Irish landowners dot the Boyne Valley and beyond. Substantial yet elegant Slane Castle was home to Elizabeth Conyngham, the mistress of King George VI, and it’s said the road between Dublin and Slane was built especially straight to speed the smitten king’s journeys.

The great estates have mostly been broken up, and the Conynghams have diversified: Slane Castle is a famous venue for concerts (including U2 – who also recorded parts of The Unforgettable Fire in the Great Library – and Guns ‘n’ Roses), there’s now a rather lovely organic glampsite (rockfarmslane.ie) on the hills above, and a €47 million whiskey distillery opened in late spring 2017. Visits to the house and distillery offer a neat perspective on changing times, from the burnished new copper stills to the grand paintings of distant aristocrats, as the Boyne takes its peaceful path along the valley below.

Nearby Beaulieu House (beaulieuhouse.ie) has a gorgeous garden and a soaring hall, as well as connections to motor racing and the martyred 17th-century archbishop Oliver Plunkett.

Gin and local produce

The Boyne Valley is no fossil. Slane Castle’s whiskey is a traditional spirit given a contemporary twist (their first release is matured in virgin, seasoned and sherry casks), while Tayto Park uses Ireland’s most iconic crisp – and a dash of Irish mythology –  as the hook for a popular theme park.

Listoke Distillery (listokedistillery.ie), meanwhile, takes a drink more associated with England and the Netherlands and uses local botanicals to tie it into the region’s buoyant food scene. A gin-making session at this 19th century house just outside Drogheda is enormous fun – you get to research and perfect your own mix of botanicals while drinking G&Ts.

Indeed, restaurants across the Boyne Valley are proudly touting their local produce, from lamb and goat’s cheese to pale ale, and there’s fine food on offer at restaurants including Tankardstown House (tankardstown.ie) and Scholars. And eating local food ties you back – in a satisfyingly filling way – to the landscape that has made this place a crucible of Irish history.

Travel In Mexico City

The sinking city

Xochimilco has an environmental management plan in place, but Mexico City’s water problems are so much bigger than the canals. Geologists estimate that in certain areas the city sinks about 6 centimeters (2.5 inches) a year, and as water tables drop, subsidence becomes a more serious concern. To fully grasp the sinking-city phenomenon, check out the slanted Catedral Metropolitana, Mexico City’s iconic cathedral on the capital’s main square, or the teetering 17th-century Ex Teresa Arte Actual museum nearby.

Water issues may not seem all that obvious when cruising the wetlands of Xochimilco, but environmentalists warn that without a more forward-thinking approach to water regeneration and conservation, tour boat operators, chinampa farmers and the city’s inhabitants in general might find themselves up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Wonderfully weird Mexico City: the Distrito Federal’s most bizarre sights

Just when you think things can’t get any stranger in Mexico City, they usually do. In fact, the sprawling capital offers so many unusual sights that you can plan a whole trip around visiting oddball places. Here are 10 experiences sure to make a lasting impression.

Island of the Dolls

Slasher doll Chucky would feel right at home on spooky Isla de las Muñecas. Hundreds of weathered dolls – some missing heads and limbs – hang from trees and clotheslines on a chinampa (raised garden) deep in the heart of the Xochimilco canals. An island caretaker dredged the dolls from surrounding canals to appease the spirit of a girl who had drowned nearby.

Make it happen
Recommended visiting hours are 8am-4pm. The island is only accessible by boat so take a ‘Tláhuac Paradero’ bus from metro General Anaya to the Embarcadero Cuemanco entrance, walk a kilometer to the docks and take a 4hr trajinera (gondola) boat ride for M$1400.

Munch on bugs at Mercado San Juan

Feeling peckish? How about some escamoles (ant larvae), jumiles (stink bugs), gusanos de maguey (maguey worms), or perhaps some crunchy chapulines (grasshoppers)? Many folks are pleasantly surprised when sampling insects for the first time at this gourmet food market (that is, if they don’t mind getting grasshopper legs wedged between their teeth). Mexico’s love for bugs dates back to the pre-Hispanic era – today insects are seen as a delicacy in upscale restaurants, and they’re highly nutritious to boot. Still peckish?

Make it happen
Mercado San Juan is at Pugibet 21, Colonia Centro, metro San Juan de Letrán, and is open 8am-5:30pm.

Santa Muerte patiently awaits

Once revolving around a small cult, Santa Muerte, or Our Lady of Death, now draws millions of followers who have left behind Catholicism and turned to worshipping the popular skeleton saint instead. Throughout the city you’ll find numerous Santa Muerte altars, but the mother of all shrines is in the working-class neighborhood of Colonia Morelos, where the faithful kneel before a grim reaper figure wearing a sequined gown and wig of long dark tresses.

Make it happen
Enter Colonia Morelos at your own risk – it’s relatively safe by day, but don’t visit this crime-ridden area after dark. The Santa Muerte altar can be found at number 12 Calle Alfarería, between Mineros and Panderos streets, metro Tepito.

Go underground at El Chopo

Every Saturday afternoon, thousands of people flock to tianguis (open street market) El Chopo, a weekly gathering of black-clad punks, die-hard head bangers and just about every other youth subculture imaginable. Vendors hawk random band T-shirts, indie music, cult videos and all kinds of quirky stuff, while at the market’s north end, young-and-hungry bands grind out garage punk, metal and rockabilly. After the market closes, Chopo regulars unwind in the raucous neighborhood bars.

Make it happen
Tianguis Cultural del Chopo is on Calle Aldama in Colonia Guerrero, metro Buenavista, and is open 10am-5pm Sat.

Mercado Sonora – for all your witchcraft needs

Ward off evil spirits or rid yourself of a curse at Mercado Sonora, aka ‘the witches’ market’. Aisles are lined with stalls offering black magic items, strange potions and limpias, a pre-Hispanic cleansing ritual involving clouds of incense and a herbal brushing. Amulets and talismans abound – some stands even sell ceramic figures of Jesus Malverde, a narco folk saint who brings good luck to drug traffickers.

Make it happen
Mercado Sonora is on Avenida Fray Servando Teresa de Mier 419, Colonia Merced Balbuena, metro Merced, and is open 10am-7pm.

A shrine to Mexico’s masked marvels

Former pro wrestler Super Astro has turned his downtown sandwich shop, El Cuadrilatero (The Ring), into a lucha libre (wrestling) shrine. Colorful masks encased in glass boxes pay tribute to Mexican wrestling greats such as Blue Demon and El Santo. Hungry? If in 15 minutes you can devour the 1.3kg/2.9lb torta gladiador (an artery-choking sub stacked with various meats, egg and cheese), it’s free. Chewing is optional.

Make it happen
El Cuadrilatero can be found at Luis Moya 73, Colonia Centro, metrobus Plaza San Juan. Tortas cost M$65-95, the gladiador costs M$270, and it’s open 7am-8pm Mon-Sat.

Get your freak on at Disco Patrick Miller

People-watching is downright fascinating at Disco Patrick Miller, a throbbing nightclub known for its ‘Hi-NRG’ music (up-tempo disco). The venue draws a highly diverse clientele, ranging from ‘80s throwbacks and working-class regulars to cross dressers and break dancers. The real fun begins when circles open up on the floor and locals pull off moves that would have made Michael Jackson proud.

Make it happen
You can dance every Friday night away (10.30pm-4am) at Mérida 17, Colonia Roma, metro Insurgentes; cover M$30.

Marvel at mummies in a crypt

Shortly after occupying this convent during the Mexican Revolution, Zapatista soldiers came across a surprising find while digging for buried gold – a dozen mummified corpses. The unidentified bodies, now on display in a muraled museum crypt, are believed to be 17th-century benefactors and friars of the Carmelite order. The mummies’ horrific facial expressions have been remarkably well preserved for your morbid viewing pleasure.

Make it happen
El Museo de El Carmen is at Av Revolución 4, Colonia San Ángel, metrobus La Bombilla, and is open 10am-5pm Tue-Sun. Admission is M$52, Sun free.

Find your inner kid in a funky toy museum

Japanese-Mexican Roberto Shimizu claims to have amassed the world’s largest collection of antique toys. His Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico is a hoarder’s paradise with a collection of more than one million items, of which around 60,000 are on permanent display in unique cases Shimizu himself designed from recycled objects. Exhibits across the three cluttered floors come in all sizes, from tiny action figures to life-size robots.

Make it happen
The museum is at Dr. Olvera 15, Colonia Doctores, metro Obrera. Admission is M$75, and it’s open 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm Sat, 10am-4pm Sun.

The sinking city phenomenon

Downtown Mexico City is sinking fast. The vast valley of present-day D.F. sits atop a lake bed that was drained by the Spanish at the beginning of the colonial era meaning that many weighty old buildings in the Historic Center continue to sink into the sloshy soil. Nowhere is this more evident than inside cultural center Ex Teresa Arte Actual, a teetering 17th-century former convent. From the moment you walk into the slanted edifice, it feels like you’re walking around a funhouse, but instead of mirrors you get trippy experimental art on display.