food

Al Moudira: A Dream Oasis in Luxor, Egypt

Escape the hassle. This idyllic, under-the-radar Luxor hotel on the West Bank of the Nile has plenty of personality.

This elaborate woodwork forms one wall of the central courtyard

This elaborate woodwork forms one wall of the central courtyard

Wally and I found ourselves on a narrow road, passing children driving donkey carts, wagons piled high with sugarcane and the rugged otherworldly stretch of the Theban Mountains on the horizon.

Once we arrived at the Hotel Al Moudira and told our guide Mamduh this was where we were staying, he became visibly concerned. He even accompanied us to reception to confirm that this hotel, in the middle of nowhere, was where we really wanted to stay.

We could understand his apprehension. The sprawling Al Moudira is set back from a dusty two-lane road, in the midst of a tiny rural village surrounded by acres of fertile farmland. Mamduh just couldn’t understand why we would want to stay outside the urban center of the East Bank. But Al Moudira’s remoteness is a large part of its appeal.

The minute you enter the confines of the hotel, you’ll know you’re someplace special

The minute you enter the confines of the hotel, you’ll know you’re someplace special

We stopped by the reception room to check in and were each served a refreshing glass of karkadeh, sweetened, chilled hibiscus tea. I quickly asked if there was a bathroom nearby, as we had driven from Aswan to Luxor that day and it was a long distance between our last stop at Edfu and the West Bank. As I passed a trio of colorful wooden figurines, and saw the vintage oil-painted portraits — one of a man with a rather bushy moustache, and the other a silver-haired matron wearing a pearl necklace — outside their respective bathrooms, I knew we had found the perfect place to spend the next four nights.

The reception area

The reception area

Quirky artwork can be found here and there, revealing the proprietress’ sense of humor

Quirky artwork can be found here and there, revealing the proprietress’ sense of humor

For Wally, all he needed to see was the gurgling fountain in the open-air central courtyard, and he was grinning from ear to ear. And that was before he knew we had our own fountain in our room!

Our room opened to a courtyard filled with vibrant flowering bougainvillea, a fountain, and a sitting area

Our room opened to a courtyard filled with vibrant flowering bougainvillea, a fountain, and a sitting area

A Tour of Al Moudira

We passed through the entrance hall, which leads to the stunning central courtyard. The fountain stands in the middle, while at the far side, light filtered through an intricate cedarwood mashrabiya screen integrated into the main pavilion, creating an inviting seating area complete with cushioned banquettes for guests to perch and relax on.

A raised platform in the courtyard is gorgeously appointed and is a great spot to relax before dinner

A raised platform in the courtyard is gorgeously appointed and is a great spot to relax before dinner

Garden paths made of repurposed tile meander throughout Al Moudira

Garden paths made of repurposed tile meander throughout Al Moudira

The man leading us to our room stopped to introduce us to a dark-haired woman. “This is the boss!” he exclaimed. “Al moudira! She is the owner, the designer, the manager — basically, she does everything!”

It wasn’t until later that we made the connection that Al Moudira means “boss,” specifically the female form of the word.

The junior suite Wally and I stayed in was airy and spacious (not so “junior”) and included a generous sitting area, a central fountain surrounded by cushions, air conditioning, a minibar and a king-size canopy bed. The Wi-Fi was weak in our room, but that’s the point. The vibe is low key and has been designed for you to unplug. Don’t worry, though. You can still post to Facebook and Instagram (though don’t you dare check that work email) with the Wi-Fi in the main courtyard.

Our spacious room had a fountain in the middle of it!

Our spacious room had a fountain in the middle of it!

Every morning, light filtered through the colored glass set into the vaulted domes of our enormous en-suite bathroom.

The complex itself is comprised of a maze of open arches, crowned with cupolas and enclosed inner courtyards, each with its own fountain and verdant oasis.

The beautiful objects found throughout the hotel have been collected by Zeina, the owner

The beautiful objects found throughout the hotel have been collected by Zeina, the owner

The Boss Tells Us the History of Al Moudira

One evening while Wally and I were relaxing on the central courtyard terrace, we met Al Moudira again, the charming multilingual Lebanese proprietor, hostess and creative force behind the hotel, Zeina Aboukheir.

I casually asked if anything had stood where the hotel was and she paused our conversation to retrieve a scrapbook that a close friend had made for her, documenting the process and various inspirations for her desert palace. A dedication on the first page caught my eye. It read, “Al Moudira, ou la folie de Zeina” (the madness of Zeina — or as we might say, “Zeina’s crazy idea”).

Construction began in 2000, but the hotel feels old and grand, due to the vintage finds and architectural salvage Zeina has amassed from her travels and effortlessly layered into her labor of love, including Persian carpets, salvaged wooden doors and mother of pearl-inlaid chairs.

I told Zeina I loved the artworks that adorn the walls of the Eastern Bar, hand-colored boudoir images from a series titled Femmes de Bou Saada, and she replied, “Yes, aren’t they wonderful?”

The Eastern Bar has naughty artwork, games and a piano

The Eastern Bar has naughty artwork, games and a piano

Enjoy a cocktail before and/or after dinner

Enjoy a cocktail before and/or after dinner

The bar evokes a cozy parlor in a British mansion

The bar evokes a cozy parlor in a British mansion

Zeina purchased the desolate plot of land and set out to transform it into a storybook refuge. She hired Olivier Sednaoui, who specializes in vernacular architecture, which incorporates traditional regional and indigenous styles. Sednaoui had previously built his own home near Medinet Habu, inspired by the methods and techniques of Hassan Fathy, a pioneer in sustainable mud brick architecture.

The hotel is named for Zeina’s nickname: the Boss Lady

The hotel is named for Zeina’s nickname: the Boss Lady

Zeina and the architect had many spirited debates over the concept of the hotel complex.

“Did you get your way?” Wally asked.

“For the most part,” Zeina said, smiling.

She added, “He was very good at brickwork. But that’s all he wanted to do. When that was finished, he left.”

No shrinking violet, Zeina persevered over the following years, assembling a team of local workers and craftsmen, along with Lebanese artist Mario Dahab, whose flourishes can be seen throughout the boutique hotel. This can-do spirit earned her the nickname Al Moudira. When it came time to decide a name for the hotel, she already knew what to call it.

Lush plants, soothing earth tones, arches and cupolas are all part of the relaxing aesthetic at Al Moudira

Lush plants, soothing earth tones, arches and cupolas are all part of the relaxing aesthetic at Al Moudira

“The Only Place Possible in Luxor”

The hotel’s interiors have a theatrical quality, blending Egyptian, North African and Near Eastern styles. As Zeina told us, “I find things I like…and then figure out where to put them.” For example, the piano in the Eastern Bar was discovered at a flea market in Alexandria.

I wasn’t the least bit surprised when she told us that the hotel has received celebrity guests, including French fashion designer Christian Louboutin, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and supermodel Kate Moss — who we learned, much to our dismay, was there just a few days before we were.

Wally and I ate breakfast and dinner al fresco in the communal courtyard, partly because there wasn’t another option nearby, but also because the meals we had there were delicious. The menu changes nightly and features a variety of Mediterranean, Eastern and European-inspired dishes — all at a remarkably affordable price.

Lunch of mezze, or small dishes, which we enjoyed al fresco by the pool

Lunch of mezze, or small dishes, which we enjoyed al fresco by the pool

The central courtyard is where most guests have breakfast and dinner

The central courtyard is where most guests have breakfast and dinner

Service was warm and hospitable, and we felt like we were guests at a lavish caliphate’s winter palace. I enjoyed hearing the sound of rustling palm fronds and birdsong as well as the occasional call to prayer while exploring the beautifully landscaped grounds. (We got a bit lost on more than one occasion.)

During our stay, the large swimming pool was the perfect place to seek refuge from the strong midday sun, and Wally and I looked forward to spending a few hours reading and relaxing poolside after exploring the hot and arid West Bank.

The pool is where the action is in the afternoon

The pool is where the action is in the afternoon

Get a drink or a bite at the pool pavilion

Get a drink or a bite at the pool pavilion

You will have to share your stay with flies, but there were small brushes placed everywhere (Wally called them shoo-flies), which act like a horse’s tail to swat away the pests. Duke would rest the shoo-fly by his head, convinced that this trick kept the flies at bay.

If you’re planning on visiting Luxor and are looking for the perfect place to stay within close proximity of the ancient pharaonic sites of the West Bank, and prefer a restful refuge not in the midst of the Luxor chaos, look no further than Al Moudira. You’ll soon learn that a stay here is the perfect getaway, or to, quote Louboutin: “For the most divine hotel owner, Zeina, and for the garden — basically the only place possible in Luxor.” –Duke

Forget downtown Luxor — we recommend staying at this refuge on the West Bank

Forget downtown Luxor — we recommend staying at this refuge on the West Bank

Hotel Al Moudira
Luxor
West Bank,
Hager Al Dabbeya
Egypt

 

10 Most Instagrammable Places in Mexico City's Centro

A photographer’s tour of the CDMX historic district, from the Palacio de Bellas Artes to the Gran Hotel Ciudad de México.

CDMX, as the cool kids call it, is full of stunning design, a mind-blowing mix of colonial architecture and modern marvels. Here are some of our favorites to help you get started on a cultural and Insta-worthy tour of the city’s historic heart.

Centro Histórico

A chandelier hangs above the holy ark

A chandelier hangs above the holy ark

The second and third floors of the Sinagoga Histórica have some beautiful elements

The second and third floors of the Sinagoga Histórica have some beautiful elements

Look up to see the folk art-styled ceiling, with its gorgeous color pallette

Look up to see the folk art-styled ceiling, with its gorgeous color pallette

1. Sinagoga Histórica Justo Sierra 71

Start your tour with this hidden gem, built and established by the Ashkenazi, Eastern European Jews who arrived in Mexico City as refugees escaping persecution in the early 1940s. The Historic Synagogue, or Templo Nidje Israel, is entered through an interior courtyard beyond the building’s colonial façade (and a somewhat grumpy guard).

The interior contains a rather plain assembly hall on the first floor, but the sanctuary located on the second floor is impressive, said to be modeled after a synagogue in Lithuania. Make sure to look up at the vaulted clerestory ceiling intricately painted in hues of rust, mustard yellow, blue and green. An elaborately carved platform stands in the center of the room and faces the richly ornamented aron kodesh, or holy ark, surrounded by folk art elements typical of Eastern European villages. The sacred Torah scrolls were once kept behind the blue velvet curtain panel embroidered with silver thread.

Justo Sierra 71

What seemed to be a bizarre fantasy video game ad was playing in the courtyard while we visited

What seemed to be a bizarre fantasy video game ad was playing in the courtyard while we visited

Open archways line the corridors of the ex-college

Open archways line the corridors of the ex-college

You’ll spot murals all over the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso

You’ll spot murals all over the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso

2. Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso

A block or so down from the synagogue is a former Jesuit boarding school that has since been transformed into a museum and cultural center. After the Jesuits were expelled from the city, the building temporarily served as barracks for the Mexican army before becoming the National Preparatory School. The site is considered to be the birthplace of the Mexican muralism movement and features murals painted by David Alfaro, José Clemente Orozco (Wally’s personal fave) and Diego Rivera.

Justo Sierra 16

La Casa de las Sirenas is located within one of the first colonial mansions in Mexico City

La Casa de las Sirenas is located within one of the first colonial mansions in Mexico City

Our al fresco meal was delicious

Our al fresco meal was delicious

Grab a bite on the rooftop terrace, which overlooks the back of the cathedral

Grab a bite on the rooftop terrace, which overlooks the back of the cathedral

3. La Casa de las Sirenas

The frieze on the façade of this former 17th century colonial abode features a Caravaca cross flanked by a pair of mermaids, which gives the restaurant its name, the House of the Mermaids.

We ate a delicious lunch on the rooftop terrace with a spectacular view overlooking the extremely disappointing Templo Mayor and the back of the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, while an organ grinder played a whimsical tune over and over from the street below.

República de Guatemala 32

The Metropolitan Cathedral organ

The Metropolitan Cathedral organ

This over-the-top golden altar is just one of many inside the massive cathedral

This over-the-top golden altar is just one of many inside the massive cathedral

Saints galore in various niches in this Baroque church — note the highly realistic detail on his hand

Saints galore in various niches in this Baroque church — note the highly realistic detail on his hand

4. Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

This massive Baroque-style cathedral dominating the northern side of the Zócalo plaza was built in stages between 1573 to 1873, shortly after Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors defeated the Aztec Empire. Among the oldest and largest cathedrals in the Americas, much of it was built using stones pilfered from the Templo Mayor. (Maybe that’s why the temple’s ruins are so unimpressive.) Step inside to see the large, ornate Altar of the Kings, collection of paintings, pipe organ and statuary.

Plaza de la Constitución s/n

Pop into the lobby of the Gran Hotel to marvel at the stained glass ceiling and ironwork

Pop into the lobby of the Gran Hotel to marvel at the stained glass ceiling and ironwork

The curving balconies and organic grillwork on the cage elevators make this Art Nouveau gem worth a shot or two

The curving balconies and organic grillwork on the cage elevators make this Art Nouveau gem worth a shot or two

5. Gran Hotel Ciudad de México

After binge-watching the Spanish soap series Gran Hotel on Netflix, we had to go inside this historic Art Nouveau gem of the same name. It was originally the city’s most luxurious department store, known as el Centro Mercanti — in fact, you can still see the monogram “CM” in the stained-glass ceiling designed by French glass artist Jacques Grüber as well as the railings. Fun fact: The interior is featured in the opening scenes of the James Bond film Spectre.

16 de Septiembre 82

This building is known colloquially as the House of Tiles

This building is known colloquially as the House of Tiles

This distinctive tiled building is now a Sanborns department store

This distinctive tiled building is now a Sanborns department store

6. Casa de los Azulejos

Meaning “the House of Tiles” in Spanish, the exterior of this 16th century building is embellished with tin-glazed ceramic tilework known as azulejos, from Puebla, Mexico. The property was originally the residence of the Valle de Orizaba counts, one of the wealthiest families in the country. It was purchased by brothers Walter and Frank Sanborn in 1919 and converted into the flagship location of Sanborns, a Mexican department store and restaurant chain.

Av Francisco I. Madero 4

Since you’re in the area, you should pop into the Palacio Postal just to check out the amazing staircase

Since you’re in the area, you should pop into the Palacio Postal just to check out the amazing staircase

Things are looking up at the Postal Palace

Things are looking up at the Postal Palace

7. Palacio Postal

Also known as the Correo Mayor, the Postal Palace was built by Italian architect Adamo Boari and Mexican engineer Gonzalo Garita and has been in continuous operation since it first opened in 1907. The interior was restored to its original gilded splendor with the help of Boari’s granddaughter, who had the original building plans in Italy. The money shot is of a pair of grand interconnecting staircases embellished with vegetal brass balustrades that almost appear to be alive. My only regret is that we weren’t able to send a postcard home while there.

C. Tacuba 1, Cuauhtémoc

To get this money shot, you have to go into the Sears department store across the street

To get this money shot, you have to go into the Sears department store across the street

8. Palacio de Bellas Artes

We didn’t get to go inside on this visit. But the secret to an amazing aerial shot is to head over to the Sears department store directly across the street. (If you don’t want to have a snack or drink on the balcony café, just go up one more floor and press your camera against the glass as we did.)

Designed by the same architect as the Palacio Postal, the building’s gorgeously photogenic Art Nouveau exterior is topped by a lattice of iron and a shimmering iridescent ombre-tiled dome. At the very top, the Mexican eagle perches on a cactus with a serpent in its beak, with the four figures beneath representing the personifications of the dramatic arts.  

The plaza includes various sculptures, including four Pegasus statues designed by Catalan Agustí Querol Subirats, as well as the famous Mexico City Olympics logo — way too popular with tourists to get a good picture of.

Av. Juárez

The Hemiciclo a Benito Juárez monument

The Hemiciclo a Benito Juárez monument

A large green space sits right next to the plaza of the Palacio de Bellas Artes

A large green space sits right next to the plaza of the Palacio de Bellas Artes

9. Alameda Central

This leafy park was created in 1525 on what was previously the site of an Aztec marketplace. Its name comes from the word alámo, Spanish for poplar tree — which can be found in abundance throughout the park. You’ll encounter children playing in empty fountain basins and locals of all ages meandering or sitting on benches along the many paths. The Kiosco Morisco was located there briefly and used as a pavilion to announce lottery winners before being moved to make way for the semicircular Neoclassical Hemiciclo a Benito Juárez monument, dedicated to the former Mexican president.

Av. Hidalgo s/n

This fountain is right across from Alameda Central and is worth a quick visit to get the Insta shot

This fountain is right across from Alameda Central and is worth a quick visit to get the Insta shot

Governmental buildings and the Museum of Memory and Tolerance surround the fountain

Governmental buildings and the Museum of Memory and Tolerance surround the fountain

País de Volcanes  ( Country of Volcanoes ) by Ricardo Legorreta

País de Volcanes (Country of Volcanoes) by Ricardo Legorreta

10. Fuente de Vicente Rojo

Across from Alameda Park, tucked into the courtyard of the Museo Memoria y Tolerancia surrounded by governmental offices is a fountain designed by Mexican visual artist Vicente Rojo and architect Ricardo Legorreta. Titled País de Volcanes (Country of Volcanoes), it features more than 1,000 small burnt red concrete pyramids emerging from a sunken reflecting pool, a reference to the coarse volcanic tezontle stone widely used by the Aztecs. –Duke

Av. Juárez 44

Q&A With Mexico City Chef Rodrigo Carrasco

The talented man behind Bowie Cocina de Humo, Tirano and Kitchen6 explains his culinary vision and inspirations.

Chef Rodrigo Carrasco at Bowie

Chef Rodrigo Carrasco at Bowie

Wally and I had a delightful evening enjoying the smoky cuisine at Bowie in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood. It was a wonderful experience and made a lasting impression on us. So much so that I decided to reach out to its chef de cuisine, Rodrigo Carrasco. To my surprise, he kindly accommodated my request to answer some questions and share his story about the origins of his “Kitchen of Smoke,” why it was named after the British music icon David Bowie and what’s next on the horizon. –Duke

At our country house, we cooked on an open hearth. I saw the power of smoke and got the idea to open a restaurant cooking with smoke and coalfire in the coolest neighborhood in Mexico City.
— Chef Rodrigo Carrasco

bowiebar.JPG

READ OUR REVIEW OF BOWIE

Subtle smoke flavors, attentive service and a fun musical backdrop made Chef Carrasco’s Roma Norte restaurant our favorite dining experience in CDMX.


What inspired you to open Bowie?

At my family’s country house in Valle de Bravo, we cooked on an open hearth. I saw the power of smoke and got the idea to open a restaurant cooking with smoke and coalfire in the coolest neighborhood in one of the biggest cities in the world.

En la casa de campo en Valle de Bravo cocinando en una chimenea. Vi el poder del humo y dije háganos un restaurante de ahumado en leña y carbón. En la ciudad más grande del mundo en el barrio más cool.

A trip to Texas helped inspire Carrasco to perfect his barbecue methods.  Photo by Juan Carlos Valladolid

A trip to Texas helped inspire Carrasco to perfect his barbecue methods. Photo by Juan Carlos Valladolid

What’s your connection to David Bowie?

While traveling through Texas to learn about the various BBQ methods, I came across a county named Bowie, where the Bowie knife was created, and I’d been listening to the music of David Bowie. I didn’t need anything else to know that Bowie would be the name.

Bowie por qué estaba investigado en Texas el proceso del BBQ y llegue a un condado llamado Bowie, había un bowie knife y el playlist era de David Bowie. Dije no hay más bowie será su nombre.

When Carrasco’s not cooking seafood, he’s probably working with steak

When Carrasco’s not cooking seafood, he’s probably working with steak

Where’s the beef? Carrasco serves it up at his steakhouse, Tirano

Where’s the beef? Carrasco serves it up at his steakhouse, Tirano

Describe the aesthetic and mood of the restaurant.

It’s a contemporary Mexican space. Relaxed, but with elegant design touches, and a kitchen that’s visible from virtually anywhere within the restaurant. I love immersing diners in a theatrical experience.

Un espacio mexicano contemporáneo. Relajado pero con toques de diseño elegantes. La posibilidad de ver la cocina desde todo el lugar me encanta es involucrar a los comensales en una experiencia teatral también.

The chef’s recipes have been perfected over more than two decades of cooking

The chef’s recipes have been perfected over more than two decades of cooking

How did you determine the menu?

It’s a compilation of my best recipes after cooking for more than 20 years: European-inspired ingredients and techniques with a Mexican twist. Always with smoke as the foundation.

Es una compilación de mis mejores recetas luego de cocinar por más de 20 años. Siempre con el humo como fundamento e ingrediente y técnicas mexicanas y europeas.

The pulpo, or octopus, at Bowie is served up on the cutest little grill ever

The pulpo, or octopus, at Bowie is served up on the cutest little grill ever

What’s your favorite thing to cook?

Fish and seafood.

Los pescados y mariscos.

If Chef Carrasco cooks it, chances are it’ll be divine

If Chef Carrasco cooks it, chances are it’ll be divine

Where do you find your inspiration?

Music, nature, my Mexican heritage and to let the world know that there’s good cuisine and world-class restaurants in CDMX. That’s what inspires and motivates me.

La música, la naturaleza, mi cultura mexicana, hacerle saber al mundo que en CDMX hay buena cocina y restaurantes de buen nivel. Eso me inspira y me motiva.

How do you choose the music that plays at Bowie?

We have several playlists, I believe. I love music and am always tinkering with it, depending on the day, time and clientele.

For example, on Sundays we get families and grandparents who sing along to the classics of the ’60s. The young people also know these songs. But on Thursday nights we have an ultra hip clientele who prefer house, soul or something more progressive that allows them to dine, drink and enjoy the beat.

These are the basics with the music, and obviously there’s a lot of David Bowie on all the playlists.

Tenemos varios playlist que yo creo. Amo la música y siempre estoy renovando esa parte; la ponemos dependiendo del día, la hora y el target de cliente.

Por ejemplo, el domingo es muy familiar y hacemos que los abuelos canten los clásicos de los 60s y los jóvenes lo conocen, pero los jueves en la noche tenemos clientes ultra cool, que se sienten mejor con el house, el soul, y algo progresivo que les permita beber y disfrutar el beat.

Es así la mecánica con la música, obviamente hay mucha presencia de David en todas las playlist.

Carrasco garners some press

Carrasco garners some press

What’s next for you?

I’m the co-owner of two other concepts: Tirano, which is a Mexican steakhouse that’s also in Roma, and Kitchen6, a gastropub on Amsterdam in La Condesa that serves grilled food. In addition, our group is planning on opening a torteria sandwich shop later this year.

Si soy co propietario de otros dos conceptos. Tirano, que es un asador mexicano que reubicamos en la Roma también; y Kitchen6 un gastropub que está en Condesa en Amsterdam, que es cocina de grill. En el grupo, planeamos la apertura de una torteria este año de igual forma.

Bowie: One of the Best Restaurants in Mexico City

Chef Rodrigo Carrasco works his magic with a delicious smoke-themed menu at our favorite CDMX dinner spot.

The chic interior, fun playlists and attentive service helped make Bowie our best dining experience in CDMX

The chic interior, fun playlists and attentive service helped make Bowie our best dining experience in CDMX

Instead of a Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes, Wally and I decided to take a trip to Mexico City. If we were going to miss the traditional American meal, we wanted something equally delicious. So we took the suggestion of Magda, a manager at the Ignacia Guest House, where we were staying, and decided upon Bowie.

The restaurant is a stone's throw from Avenida Álvaro Obregón, the main thoroughfare in the hip Roma Norte neighborhood. Named after the memorable performer, Bowie is the creation of Mexican chef Rodrigo Carrasco.

Bowie straddles the line between restaurant and theater.

The dish arrived under a glass dome, concealed by a miniature cloud that hung motionless before vanishing in a wisp of woodsmoke.

This distinctive dining establishment is modern and fashionable, but not pretentious, and is devoted to using smoke as the foundation of all of its dishes — in fact, the words “Cocina de Humo” illuminate one of the walls. And you can’t miss the fantastic, custom-created portrait of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust made entirely from bottle caps.

Almost all of the dishes are smoked — but not overwhelmingly so

Almost all of the dishes are smoked — but not overwhelmingly so

The restaurant was already buzzing when we arrived, around 8ish. Diners can choose to order à la carte from the menu, but we decided to try the seven-course tasting menu and drink pairing. The first course of beet carpaccio arrived under a glass dome, concealed by a miniature cloud. It hung motionless in the air for a moment before vanishing in a wisp of woodsmoke once our server removed the lid with flair.

The visual appeal was matched by the deliciousness of the dish. The delicately flavored beets were topped with savory goat cheese offset by a surprising hit of brightly tart lemon dressing. A single bite — and boom! We had fallen in love with Bowie. We had never tasted anything like this, and it was just the beginning.

The dramatic reveal of the beet appetizer.  Photo by Jordana Btp

The dramatic reveal of the beet appetizer. Photo by Jordana Btp

Our first couple of courses were paired with an artisanal Mexican IPA. We don’t typically like American IPAs as they’re too hoppy, but this one tasted like a farmhouse ale — more our speed.

The following courses were served with Blanc de Pacs, an organic white wine from Penedès, Spain, and Bolero, a Mexican red blend from Valle de San Vicente in Baja California Sur.

Beyond the bar, you can peek into the kitchen at Bowie

Beyond the bar, you can peek into the kitchen at Bowie

Bowie straddles the line between restaurant and theater, and it quickly became clear that we were about to embark on a culinary adventure.

The pulpo came on an adorable tiny grill

The pulpo came on an adorable tiny grill

The truffled steak tartare was served in a vessel reminiscent of a glass mushroom. Filled with bite-size chunks of red meat and portobello mushrooms, it was like eating your way through an ethereal terrarium.

Another standout was the slow-cooked short ribs with a smoked pumpkin purée, dressed with a whiskey reduction sauce. It was smoky and sweet, and immensely satisfying.

The dessert, a riff on s’mores, arrived near the end of the tasting menu. Served it a small cast iron skillet, it was utterly delicious and topped with housemade marshmallows, layered with bananas, chocolate and a shortbread crust, toasted by our server with a handheld butane torch.

Duke and Wally absolutely loved their experience at Bowie

Duke and Wally absolutely loved their experience at Bowie

In short, this incredible meal set a high bar and made us feel like kids again — though our adult palettes delighted in the impressive sophistication of the dishes as well. A meal at Bowie is an experience we would be happy to have any day. –Duke

Grab a bite at Bowie — especially if you’re in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City

Grab a bite at Bowie — especially if you’re in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City

Bowie
Córdoba 113
Roma Norte
06700 Ciudad de México
CDMX, Mexico



A Perfect Afternoon in Artsy Coyoacán

Follow our six-stop walking tour of Mexico City’s bohemian neighborhood, including Plaza Hidalgo and Los Danzantes restaurant.

After visiting Frida’s house, explore the boho hood of Coyoacán and purchase some traditional regional handicrafts at the artisanal market

After visiting Frida’s house, explore the boho hood of Coyoacán and purchase some traditional regional handicrafts at the artisanal market

There’s much to do in the charming neighborhood of Coyoacán beyond La Casa Azul, the lifelong home and studio of famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

The municipality’s name comes from Coyohuacan, Nahuatl for “the Place of Coyotes.” This colonia, or neighborhood, features meandering streets filled with well-preserved colonial buildings, delicious restaurants and handicraft markets waiting to be explored.

You’ll see balloon vendors all over CDMX

You’ll see balloon vendors all over CDMX

All you’ll need for a perfect afternoon in Coyoacán is a comfortable pair of shoes and a sense of adventure — the area is walkable, and all of the stops listed below can easily be explored by foot.

The Fuente de los Coyotes in Coyoacán

The Fuente de los Coyotes in Coyoacán

Make a Splash

Stop 1: Plaza Hidalgo

Your journey begins in the historic heart of Coyoacán, just a few blocks from La Casa Azul. On Avenida Francisco Sosa, you’ll find not one, but two public squares: Jardín Centenario, which memorializes the 100th anniversary of Mexico’s independence, and the Plaza Hidalgo. Together they form a typical colonial town square, complete with benches for people-watching, gazebos for music and vendors selling balloons.

Near the entrance of Plaza Hidalgo, a street artist was selling woven palm-leaf crickets. We purchased a pair for 50 pesos each (about $2.50), and as the vendor was handing them to us, a woman seated on a nearby bench offered her advice by telling us to use hairspray to keep them green.

People push crickets on you everywhere you go in Mexico City. These palm ones are more appetizing than the ones in the croquettes we ate

People push crickets on you everywhere you go in Mexico City. These palm ones are more appetizing than the ones in the croquettes we ate

Here you’ll find a circular stone fountain known as the Fuente de los Coyotes, or Fountain of the Coyotes, the animals from whom the borough takes its name. The iconic landmark occupies the center of the plaza and features two bronze coyotes by sculptor Gabriel Ponzanelli. Numerous spouts located around the perimeter spray graceful arcs of water into the air over the playful pair.

Be sure to stop into the exquisite Iglesia de Coyoacán, the large cathedral, across the way.

Ignacio Allende Esquina Avenida Miguel Hidalgo

Grab a bite on the patio of Los Danzantes, just off the park, for good food and people-watching

Grab a bite on the patio of Los Danzantes, just off the park, for good food and people-watching

Let’s Dance

Stop 2: Los Danzantes

On the periphery of the square is Los Danzantes, the Dancers, a multi-story restaurant in a colonial-era building with panoramic views of the park. Wally’s coworker Juls lived in Mexico City, and this is one of her favorite restaurants. We were seated outside on the patio terrace, and similar to the cafés of Paris, it was a great place to watch the world go by and enjoy a leisurely meal. While we were there, a guitarist paused for a moment as he passed by, looking to see if there might be an interested party willing to pay him to play a song or two. The restaurant also has its own mezcal distillery and grows seasonal produce in garden plots called chinampas in Xochimilco.

The bar at Los Danzantes

The bar at Los Danzantes

We had ceviche, cricket croquetas and hoja santa (holy leaf), a local specialty stuffed with goat cheese

We had ceviche, cricket croquetas and hoja santa (holy leaf), a local specialty stuffed with goat cheese

Mezcal and a mariachi are all it takes to make Duke happy

Mezcal and a mariachi are all it takes to make Duke happy

Plaza Jardín Centenario 12

Look for these yellow arches across from the Jardín Centenario to enter the handicraft market

Look for these yellow arches across from the Jardín Centenario to enter the handicraft market

Get Crafty

Stop 3: Mercado Artesanal Mexicano

After lunch, visit the Mexican Craft Market and walk beneath garlands of fluttering papel picado, colorful cut-tissue paper bunting. The two-story market has dozens of craft stalls featuring a wide variety of traditional Mexican handicrafts and regional specialties from all over the country, all in one place.

You’ll spot the coyotes for which the colonia is named all over the place

You’ll spot the coyotes for which the colonia is named all over the place

Colorful skulls on offer at the craft market

Colorful skulls on offer at the craft market

We headed upstairs first, but it seemed to be endless stalls of tattoo artists and not many handicrafts. The first floor, though, was more our speed. Wally and are were especially drawn to the colorful Oaxacan alebrijes, traditional folk art depicting fantastical creatures embellished with brilliant patterns and colors. (We have a thing for the surreal.) Each small wooden totem is carved by hand, often using nothing more than a simple pocket knife. We brought home a strange little skeleton, a green and orange insect and a black cactus with a bright pink flower and hummingbird on top of it.

When I purchased an unusual-looking doll made from a bulbous gourd with coarsely braided rope pigtails, two tiny breasts and coconut shell limbs (200 pesos, or $10), Wally replied, “You like things that look old, are a little bit cuckoo and are unlike anything we’ve seen elsewhere.” He knows me so well.

Stalls often sell the same crafts at different prices, so shop around — but don’t expect to bargain for a lower price.

Felipe Carrillo Puerto 25


coyoacanchurchaisle.jpg

BONUS STOP!

Pop into la Iglesia de Coyoacán (aka Parroquia San Juan Bautista) across the square.

The façade looks plain, but the inside is awash in gilded niches, sweeping arches and hand-painted ceiling frescos, with a peaceful cloister around back.

If that hasn’t convinced you, you can hunt down the creepy life-size mannequins of Christ and a dead baby!


Grab a coffee and snack at Panadería Pública

Grab a coffee and snack at Panadería Pública

Take a Coffee Break

Stop 4: Panadería Pública

If shopping has worn you out, we recommend stopping for a delicious pastry paired with a great cup of coffee at the Panadería Pública for an afternoon pick-me-up. There’s an array of options here, including traditional conchas, campesinos and orejas, as well as French baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat to name a few. I ordered a café con leche and Wally got his latte con leche light. We also purchased a pastelito de guayaba, a puff pastry similar in size and shape to a turnover, filled with cream cheese and guava paste. Stop to chat with the friendly staff.

Higuerra 22
La Concepción

The marigold yellow façade of La Conchita has seen better days but still has charm

The marigold yellow façade of La Conchita has seen better days but still has charm

Goin’ to the Chapel

Stop 5: Plaza de la Conchita

A short stroll southeast is the leafy Plaza de la Conchita in the colonia La Concepción, a quiet sanctuary that feels worlds away from the crowds of tourists visiting La Casa Azul just a few miles away. The small square contains a pale yellow, timeworn and weather-beaten beauty of the 16th century, the Churrigueresque, or Spanish Baroque-style, chapel known as La Conchita. One of the oldest in Mexico, it’s said that the conquistador Hernán Cortés ordered the church to be built on top of a Toltec altar soon after he settled in Coyoacán. The village was used as the base for the conquistadors after they conquered the Aztec Empire.

The church is designed in the Churrigueresque, or Spanish Baroque, style

The church is designed in the Churrigueresque, or Spanish Baroque, style

Duke sits on the steps around back

Duke sits on the steps around back

Unfortunately, the chapel was closed, so we couldn’t venture inside, but the building itself is a charming example of colonial architecture.

The fellas love to take jumping shots

The fellas love to take jumping shots

Golden hour made the church walls glow

Golden hour made the church walls glow

Fernández Leal
La Concepción

Teenagers practice salsa moves at the end of a striking, geometrical arbor

Teenagers practice salsa moves at the end of a striking, geometrical arbor

Park It

Stop 6: Frida Kahlo Park

Just steps from the Plaza de la Conchita is Frida Kahlo Park. Here you’ll find a menagerie of topiary animals at the entrance and a fountain with a bronze sculpture of a nude woman with her legs drawn up, also by Ponzanelli. A group of teenagers was practicing salsa routines under an arbor of bougainvilleas.

Like the coyote fountain in Plaza Hidalgo, this woman was sculpted by Ponzanelli

Like the coyote fountain in Plaza Hidalgo, this woman was sculpted by Ponzanelli

Wally loves Frida

Wally loves Frida

Is Diego jealous of Duke’s attention to Frida?

Is Diego jealous of Duke’s attention to Frida?

The park is a bit small in scale, but it’s worth stopping by to take a photo with the larger-than-life figures of Frida and Diego and to see the brightly colored mural by Dan Silva aka Polvoe, across the way on Tepalcatitla street.

The mascots of Coyoacán, as depicted by street artist Polvoe

The mascots of Coyoacán, as depicted by street artist Polvoe

A colorful mural across from Frida Kahlo Park caught our eye

A colorful mural across from Frida Kahlo Park caught our eye

Fernández Leal and Avenida Pacifico
La Concepción


Coyoacán was easily one of our favorite places we visited in CDMX. You can see why this enchanting and storied part of the city has attracted artists and intellectuals over the years. –Duke

 

Cold Soup Recipe: Carrot and Healing Roots Bisque With Crostini

Beat the heat with this bright and refreshing vegan chilled soup that will transport you to the enchanting open-air pavilion of Herb Library in Ubud, Bali.

Can’t stand the heat? Whip up a batch of this refreshing cold soup we first had in Bali

Can’t stand the heat? Whip up a batch of this refreshing cold soup we first had in Bali

This past week brought some hot and humid days, a little reminder that the dog days of summer have arrived in Chicago. Naturally, I found myself wanting to be cooler and craving the creamy, chilled carrot and healing roots bisque I enjoyed when Wally and I dined at Herb Library in Ubud, Bali this past spring. Their menu is an extension of the Alaya Jembawan Resort’s wellness concept and features healthy and delicious options.

The bisque was silky smooth, light and delicious, like the brightness of the Balinese sun in a bowl. Ginger, galangal, garlic and earthy turmeric give the soup its complex layers, while carrots serve as the foundation. Carrots are high in beta-Carotene, which works inside our bodies as an antioxidant, while ginger, galangal and turmeric purge toxins and reduce inflammation. Plus, with a bit of prep, these nutritious ingredients cook up quickly, and when blitzed in a blender, give the soup a velvety texture.

The bisque is silky smooth, light and delicious, like the brightness of the Balinese sun in a bowl.

This recipe was kindly provided by Herb Library’s executive sous chef, Wayan Adhe Suwetha. The soup is substantial enough on its own, but can be served with crostini and a mixed greens salad. I like to finish mine with a good dollop of plain yogurt or swirl of coconut milk to round out the flavors.

Servings: 4

Turmeric, garlic, galangal, ginger, carrots and green onions form the base of this summertime bisque

Turmeric, garlic, galangal, ginger, carrots and green onions form the base of this summertime bisque

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil
  • 3½ tablespoons green onion, white part only
  • 4 cups carrots (about 1½ lbs), peeled and finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh galangal, minced
  • pinch of grated kencur
  • pinch or more of red pepper flakes
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground pepper
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 4 cups water
     

Preparation

Melt coconut oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.

Add the whites of green onions, ginger, galangal and garlic. Sauté 2 minutes, until glossy.

Add carrots and spice mixture. The kencur is optional but adds another layer to this soup. I purchased mine online through Épices de Cru. Sauté 1 minute, stirring to coat carrots.

Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover partially and simmer until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly.

Purée soup in batches until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

 

I recommend making it a day ahead — that way you get more depth of flavor and it’ll be properly chilled.

If the soup is too thick, thin with more water.

Ladle into bowls. Serve with crostini and salad.



 

Crostini

Ingredients

  • 12 day-old baguette slices, ¼ inch thick
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • chives, to taste
  • garlic, to taste

 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Mix in chives and garlic to melted butter. Brush both sides of bread with butter. (Try olive oil instead to keep this recipe vegan.) Place in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, turning halfway through baking. –Duke


GET COOKING: More recipes

Alila Ubud: A Luxury Resort Nestled in a Jungle Valley

Can we just talk about the amazing infinity pool at this Bali hotel? And the amazing food? And the monkeys scurrying about?

This was the breathtaking view we awoke to every morning

This was the breathtaking view we awoke to every morning

By the time I began looking for places for Wally and me to stay in Ubud, Bali, I was faced with an overwhelming amount of choices. I wanted to be close to the town’s cultural center, temples, shops and restaurants, but far enough away that it would feel like a retreat from the inevitable throngs of tourists. One look at an image of the epic infinity pool overlooking a landscape of tropical jungle greenery on the Alila Ubud website and I was hooked.

The infinity pool consists of a slim rectangle of water whose edges disappear into the terraced jungle hillside.
The resort is comprised of groups of villas scattered throughout the compound

The resort is comprised of groups of villas scattered throughout the compound

When we landed at the Ngurah Rai International Airport, it was well after midnight and buzzing with new arrivals. Apparently we weren’t the only flight to reach the isle of Bali so late at night — or early, depending on how you look at it. After collecting our luggage, we met our chauffeur outside the terminal and asked if the airport was typically this crowded. He replied with a smile, “Yes, always.”

The pool really is the star of the show at the Alila

The pool really is the star of the show at the Alila

Alila Ubud

Our base for our Bali trip was the Alila Ubud, which is just over an hour’s drive from the airport. Located high up in the mountain village of Payangan, our real adventure began once our driver turned onto a private meandering road that led to the resort. It was well after 2 a.m. when we checked in, following a nearly 24-hour journey from Chicago. The concierge warmly greeted us at the reception pavilion, offering us cold towels and jamu, a traditional Indonesian healing tonic.

The open-air lobby at Alila, where helpful staff are always on hand

The open-air lobby at Alila, where helpful staff are always on hand

The concierge escorted us to our room and instructed us to secure the patio doors leading to the balcony to prevent a wild monkey infiltration. “Does it have a name?” Wally asked. To which the concierge replied, “No, there are many.”

This group of monkeys gathered on the wall outside our room

This group of monkeys gathered on the wall outside our room

Alila, formerly the Chedi, was conceived by the acclaimed firm Kerry Hill Architects. The sprawling, tranquil complex is surrounded by rice terraces and is roughly 15 minutes from Ubud, the enclave that exploded exponentially after Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir and subsequent movie, Eat, Pray Love.

There’s lush tropical foliage in every direction you look

There’s lush tropical foliage in every direction you look

The hotel’s layout was inspired by traditional Balinese hillside villages and has been adapted to the site’s topography. Paths meander past the property’s rooms and private treehouse-like guest villas. Stepped walkways evoke the surrounding terraced rice paddies. Paying respect to traditional Balinese architecture, local materials have been thoughtfully incorporated into its design, including hand-cut volcanic stone, alang alang grass thatch and coconut wood. Stones from the Ayung River were used in the steps and exterior walls. As a result, the Alila’s earthy palette harmoniously blends with the landscape surrounding the resort.

The neutral tones of the buildings at Alila blend in well with the natural environment

The neutral tones of the buildings at Alila blend in well with the natural environment

The elongated open-air dining pavilion, Plantation, is located beneath a grass canopy supported by soaring palm pillars and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The executive chef behind the signature restaurants creations is Erwan Wijaya, whose menu features regional Balinese and international cuisine using locally sourced seasonal ingredients. Service was friendly and impeccable. We had the pleasure of being attended to on more than one occasion by the lovely Marianthi.

The Plantation restaurant pavilion

The Plantation restaurant pavilion

A typical breakfast at Alila: fresh baked goods, a trio of smoothies, coffee and nasi goreng (pink sunglasses Wally’s)

A typical breakfast at Alila: fresh baked goods, a trio of smoothies, coffee and nasi goreng (pink sunglasses Wally’s)

Exotic fresh fruit, including snakefruit, starfruit, pomelo and pineapple

Exotic fresh fruit, including snakefruit, starfruit, pomelo and pineapple

Wally likes pink drinks best

Wally likes pink drinks best

Breakfast options changed daily and we were always excited to try the trio of shareable juices and smoothies, tropical fruit plate, assorted pastries and varieties of nasi goreng. Plus, the coffee was excellent and brewed to order. We tried to exclude Western fare, but one morning we did cave. I tried the bostock brioche French toast with almond cream and Wally the eggs Benedict, which were equally delicious.

Our room at Alila. Wally particularly loved the mosquito netting

Our room at Alila. Wally particularly loved the mosquito netting

A Room With a View

We stayed in an understated superior room, which was cozy, with its vaulted thatched ceiling and limestone floors. Our king-size bed was shrouded in netting, which Wally loved to close in the evening, picturing himself, no doubt, as a Victorian-era naturalist traveling through the tropics. Also sharing our room was a gecko who chose to evaluate us from afar, perched high upon the wall. One night, we were awoken by a couple of monkeys fitfully skittering across our rooftop.

Curious George pays a visit to our balcony

Curious George pays a visit to our balcony

Our room included small touches with a big impact, including refillable glass bottles of water that were replenished daily and eco-friendly reusable bamboo straws.

After sightseeing and wandering Ubud, the private balcony attached to our room was the perfect perch to unwind and enjoy a quiet moment to read. We were happy that our room was centrally located, near the pool and restaurant. The complex, which seems to stretch for miles, required a few guests to be transported in golf carts to reach their rooms.

We hired a driver and ventured out daily, but if you decided to stay on the resort grounds, the Alila offers bikes for exploring the outlying area, an art gallery that features regional arts and crafts, a small boutique and a spa.

Every morning before breakfast, Wally and Duke had a swim in the pool as the sun rose

Every morning before breakfast, Wally and Duke had a swim in the pool as the sun rose

Duke leans on a wall near the resort’s spa

Duke leans on a wall near the resort’s spa

To fill in time between meals and relaxing, the Alila offers complimentary afternoon coffee and tea with an assortment of bite-size desserts. They even offer nightly entertainment, including movies by the pool.

The stairs are lit at night

The stairs are lit at night

The Cabana Lounge opens to the infinity pool

The Cabana Lounge opens to the infinity pool

The bar in the lounge — also where they set up tea, coffee and nibblies in the late afternoon

The bar in the lounge — also where they set up tea, coffee and nibblies in the late afternoon

The hotel’s shuttle service has fixed arrival and departure times, but we found it fairly easy to hire a cab for about $6 to return us to the resort. The staff was personable and always wished us a good morning. When we would return after a day’s exploration, they welcomed us back, addressing us as Mr. Duke and Mr. Wally.

A group of chaises longues at the edge of the valley

A group of chaises longues at the edge of the valley

To Infinity and Beyond

The infinity pool consists of a slim rectangle of water whose edges disappear into the terraced jungle hillside. Our room’s proximity to the pool made it easy to have a quick swim every morning before breakfast, steam rising from the water as the sun rose.

Morning yoga classes overlooking the pool were held at the Cabana Lounge, where guests can take in views of the forest while holding a warrior pose.

The infinity pool seems to flow out into the valley beyond

The infinity pool seems to flow out into the valley beyond

A minor criticism is the internet system, which required entering a complicated code for every use. This is particularly irritating on a smartphone, when you are logged out every time the phone goes idle. On top of that, the signal was weak at every time but the middle of the night. Our jet lag-induced insomnia was the only time we were able to use wifi.

The Alila is surrounded by gorgeous, green rice terraces

The Alila is surrounded by gorgeous, green rice terraces

Paths wind throughout the complex and its environs

Paths wind throughout the complex and its environs

Maybe it’s because Wally is a Taurus, but Duke is obsessed with the Nandi bull

Maybe it’s because Wally is a Taurus, but Duke is obsessed with the Nandi bull

Looking out at the mist-covered tropical greenery as we left on our final morning, Wally and I reflected upon our stay, knowing we had been somewhere special, a place we wouldn’t soon forget. –Duke

Our rooms were conveniently located near the restaurant and pool

Our rooms were conveniently located near the restaurant and pool

alilaubuddetails.JPG

Alila Ubud
Desa
Melinggih Kelod
Payangan, Gianyar
Bali 80572
Indonesia

17 Surprising Things About Brazil

From the bizarre beach culture of Rio to the urban sprawl of Sao Paulo, here’s a list of things that will shock you about Brazil travel.

The girl (and boys) from Ipanema Beach in Rio

The girl (and boys) from Ipanema Beach in Rio

“What drew you to Brazil?” I asked first off. I’m always interested in knowing what draws people to destinations. The exoticism of Southeast Asia and Morocco appeal to Duke and me, but we have yet to visit South America together.

“Cheap airfare,” my friend Ben replied without a moment’s hesitation. He and his boyfriend Derrick subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights, a mailing list that informs you of airline deals. It’s well worth paying $30 a year for the premium version.

(I signed us up, and we’ve already received a few emails that have inspired us try to figure out a creative way to use a long weekend.)

Derrick and Ben share their experience of traveling to Brazil

Derrick and Ben share their experience of traveling to Brazil

Brazil is a study in extreme contrasts. You have poverty and wealth, beauty and squalor, all of these opposing forces, in a very small space.

Ben pointed out that within 24 hours of booking, airlines are required by law to refund your money, unless it’s within seven days of the flight. So you call jump on a good price — and back out the next day if you’d like.

“We booked three trips almost immediately: Japan, Brazil and Spain,” he said, “And it all cost less than our trip to Australia the year before.” The trip to Brazil ran them only about $400.

The botanical gardens in Rio felt like you’re on the grounds of an abandoned plantation

The botanical gardens in Rio felt like you’re on the grounds of an abandoned plantation

Neither of them had been to South America before, and “another upside was that it was their summer and our winter,” Derrick said.

The fellas stayed about five days in Rio and two and a half in São Paulo.

The Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro, where Michael Jackson danced in a music video

The Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro, where Michael Jackson danced in a music video

They chose a different neighborhood each day, deciding upon a site or two to see — like the steps where Michael Jackson danced in the controversial “They Don’t Care About Us” music video, directed by Spike Lee, for instance — and then wandered around.

Here are their observations about Brazil, a country they found to be more complicated than they ever imagined.

 

1. Rio has a huge beach culture — but hardly anyone lays out or goes swimming.

People flock to the beaches in Rio, where they engage in athletic activities: volleyball, soccer or paddleball.

“But almost nobody goes in the water,” Derrick said. “It’s not the thing to do.”

“People aren’t laying down,” Ben added. “They’re all standing, and maybe sitting a little bit.”

The beaches are very large, but after you walk about five minutes, you’ve got the gist, because it repeats itself, Derrick said.

There’s a pretty black and white tiled path that runs the entire length of the seaside. And all along it, you have different restaurants and vendors, where you can get, say, a 5-pound coconut.

The waterfront is divided into different sectors, called postos. Each is known for different things, Ben says: One might be where the models hang out, one’s where the gay guys are, and another’s for families.

Cachaça vendors can whip you up a caipirinha to go for a few bucks

Cachaça vendors can whip you up a caipirinha to go for a few bucks

2. It’s super cheap to drink in Rio.

By the sidewalk are the officially sanctioned snack kiosks, but as you go 100 yards or so onto the sand, you get unofficial tents setups, or guys with insulated backpacks peddling fried cheese, beer and drugs. A lot of people had caipirinha-making kits, and you could buy a drink from them for $3.

A bottle of cachaça, a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice that’s the national drink of Brazil, could be bought at a store for $2.

Christ the Redeemer towers above Rio. Sometimes he looks like he’s in Heaven

Christ the Redeemer towers above Rio. Sometimes he looks like he’s in Heaven

3. Christ the Redeemer could be lost in the clouds.

When Ben and Derrick went, the 125-foot-tall statue of Jesus that overlooks Rio atop Mount Corcovado was shrouded in fog the entire time they were there. Be sure you take advantage of a clear day and see the sites that are on the 1,000-foot-high rocky outcroppings above the city.

The 125-foot-tall statue stands atop the massive granite dome of Corcovado hill and, since its erection in 1931 has become one of the most famous landmarks in the world.

You take an incline railway up Corcovado. “As we were going up, we were like, still nice, still nice — and then, bam! Fog,” Ben says.

It killed them a bit that they couldn’t get the iconic money shot — but to make themselves feel better, they joked that it was like “seeing Jesus in Heaven.”

The Parque Lage and School of Visual Arts is a gorgeous locale in Rio

The Parque Lage and School of Visual Arts is a gorgeous locale in Rio

4. Brazilians are beautiful — and parade around in next to nothing.

They’ll go from the beach to a food stall, wearing a speedo, shoulder shawl and flip-flops. They all wear Havaianas, the super-trendy, colorful plastic flip-flops created by a Scotsman in 1962.

 

5. But the people aren’t all that friendly.

For a city with a reputation as a party city, Ben and Derrick didn’t find the locals to be that outgoing.

“I’d always been under the impression that Brazilians were super nice, super willing to engage in conversation, that if they recognize an outsider, they’ll talk to them, but that wasn’t the case,” Ben says.

The fellas felt pretty safe wandering around Santa Teresa during the day — but you should always be on your guard with valuables in Rio

The fellas felt pretty safe wandering around Santa Teresa during the day — but you should always be on your guard with valuables in Rio

6. The crime is, unfortunately, as bad as advertised.

When they got to their hotel, they were given cards with the hotel’s contact info and were told to leave their wallet and everything else locked in the room’s safe when they left the premises. “Carry this card and a copy of your passport, and that’s it,” Derrick advised.

They took what money they felt they needed and kept it in their front pockets. “Don’t take out more than you can afford to lose,” Ben said.

“It was a bummer,” he continued, “because I love taking pictures, and my go-to mode is walking around with my camera. Everything I read said, take a photo and then put your camera away immediately in a nondescript bag.

“One afternoon we went out, and within five minutes of leaving the hotel, this guy tapped me on the shoulder and told me, ‘You need to put that away. Don’t have it out,’” Ben said.

He did feel fine using a cellphone as a camera, though. Just don’t draw too much attention to yourself, he added. Expert tip: Use your work phones — just in case they do get stolen, heh heh.

A lot of banks don’t even let you access their interior ATMs after 8 p.m. because of the fear that people will force you to withdraw money, Ben said.

Derrick moved the money he planned to spend on the trip from his checking account into a savings account.

“There’s definitely a feeling of crime,” Derrick says. Someone told them not to have bags facing the streets because bikers could ride by and swipe them.

Kids beg for money, and it’s the second-highest country in terms of child prostitution, next to Thailand, Ben informed me. (He does his research.)

Both of their Kindles got stolen out of their hotel room — the one thing they didn’t put in the safe.

 

7. Brazil is an extremely sexual country.

Prostitutes are everywhere, especially in São Paulo. “You get propositioned all the time,” Derrick says.

There are bathhouses for days, along with love hotels, similar to those found in Japan.

Take a sky tram up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Helicopter tours are available from here, from which you can see gorgeous views of the entire city

Take a sky tram up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Helicopter tours are available from here, from which you can see gorgeous views of the entire city

8. Rio didn’t get rid of its favelas (the slums built into the hillsides) for the Olympics.

Instead, they’ve had the police go in and take control, Ben said. “It’s like going into a war zone,” he added: police in body armor, SWAT vehicles, guns. They’re trying to drive out the drug dealers and crime lords.

Thousands upon thousands of people live in these communities, and they don’t have running water all the time or reliable electricity.

“They’re very vibrant communities, but are riddled with crime and corruption,” Ben said. The pieced-together shacks are, ironically, very brightly colored and pretty.

“Brazil is a study in extreme contrasts,” Ben said. “You can see the favela as you pass the Maserati dealership. You have poverty and wealth, beauty and squalor, all of these opposing forces, in a very small space.”

Ben and Derrick recommend using a wireless hotspot and rideshare apps to visit spots like Parque Lage and School of Visual Arts

Ben and Derrick recommend using a wireless hotspot and rideshare apps to visit spots like Parque Lage and School of Visual Arts

9. Rideshare companies like Lyft are a convenient way to get around.

Ben and Derrick have found rideshare apps to be a better option in many parts of the world than taxis — some of which can be corrupt. This way, you’re going through an app, your route is mapped out, and no money exchanges hands.

“Brazil is a country where you definitely don’t want to rent a car,” Ben advised. “They have one of the highest rates of traffic fatalities.” (I told you he does his research.)

“Stop signs are suggestions,” Derrick added. “And so are stoplights.”

“There’s a lot of honking and screaming,” Ben said.

The Lapa neighborhood is known for its aqueduct — and boho vibe

The Lapa neighborhood is known for its aqueduct — and boho vibe

10. There are some neighborhoods in Rio you can explore during the day — that turn into wild parties at night.

One day, the boys wandered through Lapa — a neighborhood in central Rio that’s easily identifiable by the aqueduct. Then they took the historic tram up the hill to Santa Teresa, a charming artists’ community. There’s an old mansion that burned down that’s now an art event space.  

Santa Teresa, an arts district in Rio

Santa Teresa, an arts district in Rio

They also checked out Lapa at night, and saw about 300 people hanging out in the Shell gas station parking lot. This is known as the bohemian and samba district. “People are dancing right in the streets. It’s mayhem,” Ben said.

Lapa is directly downhill from a favela, and there’s a lot of pickpocketing on weekends.

A local girl told them that she survived Carnaval without getting anything stolen cuz she had a fanny pack that she wore under her clothes.

“While I’m sure that tourists are more targeted, it also happens to Brazilians,” Ben said.

Marmosets crawl along power lines all over the city

Marmosets crawl along power lines all over the city

11. You’ll see monkeys running around everywhere in Rio.

They’re marmosets and they’re cute and like to scamper over power lines. From Ben and Derrick’s experience, they’re didn’t seem dangerous.

Aside from good restaurants and a cool museum, São Paulo doesn’t have a whole lot to offer

Aside from good restaurants and a cool museum, São Paulo doesn’t have a whole lot to offer

12. There’s not a lot to do in São Paulo.

Despite being the most populous and geographically largest city in all of South America, São Paulo doesn’t offer much for the tourist, according to Ben and Derrick.

“Unless you want to eat really good food and drink really well, there’s not a lot to do during the day,” Ben explained.

Of course, they did find a couple of cool museums to explore: MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand) and Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo.

Altarpiece No. 1-3  by Hilma af Klint at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo

Altarpiece No. 1-3 by Hilma af Klint at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo

13. São Paulo is like the gritty parts of New York — but without the visual appeal.

It’s one rundown, dirty storefront after another, Ben said. Mile after mile of urban sprawl.

They would be walking around and feel safe, and then turn onto a street that felt super sketchy. It was block-by-block.

 

14. There’s a shoe shine scam to watch out for.

In a scam that’s even used here in Chicago, a man will approach you, squat down and smear something all over your shoes. “It looked like a brown sugar mixture,” Ben said.

Then the man will make a big deal about the mess will start to clean it up — wanting, of course, to be paid about $30 for his trouble.

When this happened to the fellas and they declined, the man stood there, cursing them out.

What’s for dinner? Lots of meat — but hopefully not a capybara

What’s for dinner? Lots of meat — but hopefully not a capybara

15. The cuisine consists of lots of meat and lots of beans.

Beef, cow, goat and seafood are omnipresent. Vegetables? Not so much.

You might want to try a dish Brazil is famous for: feijoada, a stew loaded with different types of slowly braised meat that takes five days to make.

The urban sprawl of São Paulo

The urban sprawl of São Paulo

16. Distances can be deceptive in São Paulo.

You can look at a map and think, That’s not too far away — and it’ll end up being an hour Lyft ride, Derrick explained.

Ben’s friend told him that it takes about three hours to drive from one end of the city to the other.

The Luz Railway Station in São Paulo

The Luz Railway Station in São Paulo

17. Overall, Brazil is a difficult country to navigate.

Ben and Derrick have traveled all over the world — and they found Brazil to be one of the more confusing countries. “If you don’t know somebody, if you’re not part of a tour group, if you don’t travel a lot, or if you’re not street smart, it definitely requires a higher level of awareness,” according to Ben.

“In a lot of ways, our trip to Brazil was unremarkable. Brazil is really about being in the moment, taking advantage of what’s there,” Ben said.

“Yah, if you’re a person who likes to go go go, or go out at a reasonable hour, Brazil’s not the place for you,” Derrick concluded. –Wally

Plataran Borobudur: A Luxury Resort in a Dream Setting

Looking for a Borobudur hotel on Java? Pamper yourself at a private villa with your own pool in the hills above the scenic Buddhist temple.

Our villa at Plataran Borobudur

Our villa at Plataran Borobudur

The Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa ticked all the right boxes for Wally and me. From its proximity to the iconic 9th century Buddhist monument Borobudur, which could be seen in the distance from our private villa’s very own infinity pool, the decision was easy.

The private infinity pool had a view of Borobudur in the distance

The private infinity pool had a view of Borobudur in the distance

Owned and developed by Indonesian entrepreneur Yozua Makes, the secluded Plataran Borobudur Resort, part of the Plataran hospitality group, is a one-of-a-kind luxury retreat nestled in the hills in Tanjungan Village in Central Java.

When Wally saw this tub, he knew he’d be taking a bath in it before the trip was over

When Wally saw this tub, he knew he’d be taking a bath in it before the trip was over

Even though it was late at night when Wally and I arrived, weary from our delayed flight, after a 90-minute drive from the Yogyakarta International Airport, we were greeted with a smile and offered cool towels and welcome drinks at reception. While completing the check-in process, I heard a melodious chirping and asked if it was a nocturnal bird. I was informed that it wasn’t birds at all — it was geckos!

Wally mimics the Buddha in front of a bell that evokes the stupas of Borobudur

Wally mimics the Buddha in front of a bell that evokes the stupas of Borobudur

Wally and Duke chat with the charming and helpful Mia, the resort’s manager

Wally and Duke chat with the charming and helpful Mia, the resort’s manager

The concierge assisted us with our luggage and escorted us to our Executive Pool Villa, which would be our oasis for the next few days.

The villas have these doorways in the middle of the jungle with steps that lead down to the room

The villas have these doorways in the middle of the jungle with steps that lead down to the room

Set back from the path leading to the villa were a pair of weathered wood doors, with stone steps beyond that led down to our private courtyard. The spacious, airy interior featured minimalist décor, a king-size bed and a bathroom with a dramatic tub and rain shower. The bottled water wrapped in natural cotton fabric sleeves atop the dual washbasins was a nice touch.

Wally peeks from wooden doors that lead to our villa complex

Wally peeks from wooden doors that lead to our villa complex

A pair of sliding wood shutter doors leading into the villa regulates the amount of sunlight when closed and allows daylight in when open while still maintaining privacy.

Wally basks in the sun

Wally basks in the sun

Duke also enjoyed having a private infinity pool

Duke also enjoyed having a private infinity pool

On our first day, we decided to keep our itinerary open and barely left our villa. When we awoke that morning, it was the view that struck us first. Mist hung heavy over the lush greenery surrounding our villa. The sun’s rays bathed Borobudur temple in golden light, and one of the local volcanoes, Mount Merapi, made a brief appearance before coyly disappearing behind the clouds.

Birds splashed in the water at the edge of our private pool while butterflies fluttered by and dragonflies whizzed through the air. We didn’t waste much time before changing into our swimsuits and jumping in.

This planter once served as a signpost

This planter once served as a signpost

Even the ceiling of this open-air pavilion was impressive 

Even the ceiling of this open-air pavilion was impressive 

The name Plataran means “God’s favorite courtyard,” and it’s easy to see why. Hidden amongst the palms and towering teak trees, each of the 21 standalone villas blends in with the stunning local landscape, and are modeled after the traditional Javanese joglo house. Their steeply pitched pedestal clay tile rooftops are built to resemble stylized mountain peaks.

We opted to spend the afternoon exploring the grounds and stopped off at the reception lobby to confirm the details for our sunrise visit to Borobudur. A gamelan musician with a serene smile was playing a xylophone-like instrument.

A gamelan musician played soothing tunes in the lobby

A gamelan musician played soothing tunes in the lobby

This structure offers Muslim staff members a place to worship during the call the prayer — which seemed to happen quite often

This structure offers Muslim staff members a place to worship during the call the prayer — which seemed to happen quite often

Each location offers a variety of pre-arranged tours including a driver and guides. Wally and I threw in 60-minute spa treatments. If you’re going to relax, you might as well to go all in, right?

While wandering the grounds, we stumbled upon a menagerie of animals at the foot of a hill, including a flock of adorable spotted deer, a bashful peacock, a strutting male turkey that Wally named the Colonel and more than a few wild grouse roaming freely.

If you’re interested in horseback riding, a stable and riding compound is available. It’s visible from the reception area.

The horse run and stables off to the side of the reception building

The horse run and stables off to the side of the reception building

We’re not sure if this is the horse that tried to bite Wally or not

We’re not sure if this is the horse that tried to bite Wally or not

We did of course leave our room every morning for the impressive breakfast buffet served at the Patio Joglo, an open-air pavilion with a telescope smartly positioned for viewing Borobudur. This amazing spread included assorted pastries, fresh tropical fruit and juices. One of my faves was the jamu kunyit, a blend of galangal, tamarind and turmeric. A main course of traditional Indonesian or Western fare is included.

The scruptious breafast buffet

The scruptious breafast buffet

The adorably tiny eggs benedict Wally ordered one orning

The adorably tiny eggs benedict Wally ordered one orning

Breakfast was served with coffee, and Wally’s request for an iced latte was happily accommodated. On our first morning, we met the lovely Ni Komang Darmiati, the resort manager, who goes by Mia. While deciding what to get, she suggested an off-the-menu item, the delicious nasi goreng magelangan, a local riff on the country’s national dish. The aromatic meal included a mix of rice and glass noodles topped with a banana leaf hat. Small but potent green peppers were distributed into the dish and packed a pleasantly surprising amount of heat.

Nasi goreng magelangan combines rice and noodles

Nasi goreng magelangan combines rice and noodles

The resort’s signature dining restaurant, Patio Colonial, overlooks the resort’s pool and was constructed as a Dutch Colonial plantation house with a wraparound porch. Filled with historic memorabilia, it serves a tasty mix of Indonesian and international cuisine.

The main restaurant at Plataran Borobudur is modeled after a Dutch Colonian plantation house

The main restaurant at Plataran Borobudur is modeled after a Dutch Colonian plantation house

The dining room

The dining room

The bar

The bar

Complimentary afternoon tea is served with a variety of Indonesian snacks on the open-air rooftop deck atop the three-story reception building, offering compelling views of the Menorah Hills and Borobudur.

Tea is served every day on the rooftop terrace

Tea is served every day on the rooftop terrace

In addition to tea and coffee, snacks are provided, incluidng chips, hors d’oeuvres, fruit and sweets

In addition to tea and coffee, snacks are provided, incluidng chips, hors d’oeuvres, fruit and sweets

Wally and I were well taken care of by the friendly and courteous Haris, one of the servers we spoke with on more than one occasion during our stay. Like all the staff at the resort, he consistently and courteously replied, with an ever-present smile, “My pleasure” after every request.

Duke and Wally snuck into the Kastil, a private event space

Duke and Wally snuck into the Kastil, a private event space

The Kastil proved quite photogenic

The Kastil proved quite photogenic

Our four days at the Plataran Borobudur was the relaxing break that we both needed before heading back to reality. The wonderfully helpful Fuad and Merry made us feel as though we were guests at a friend’s luxurious estate for the duration of our stay.

A fruit bowl at our villa

A fruit bowl at our villa

Stepped pathways wind through the hills in the jungle throughout the grounds of the resort

Stepped pathways wind through the hills in the jungle throughout the grounds of the resort

You could stay at the hotel adjacent to Borobudur, or you could pamper yourself at a first-class resort with your own private pool. Really, the choice couldn’t be more simple. –Duke

Portugal’s Pastry Penises

Cock an eye at the phallic pastries from Amarante, Portugal, which, strangely, honor a saint.

Doesn’t this penis pastry look simply mouth-watering? Hopefully it's cream-filled!

Doesn’t this penis pastry look simply mouth-watering? Hopefully it's cream-filled!

Portugal’s pastry penises, they pop up (sorry, couldn’t resist) everywhere. Darling small ones covered in sugar. Massive ones big enough to share. Some are filled with, what else, cream. Porcelain ones, can openers, corkscrews line up on store shelves like soldiers at attention. It’s a penispalooza!

You see them all over the country, but they actually come from Amarante east of Porto. A lovely town where everything — the church, the bridge, the convent, a street — is named after the same man, Amarante sits at the western entrance to the Douro Valley, home to the port wine industry.

Modestly dressed women giggle as they confront an anatomically correct penis dusted with powdered sugar.

There is that awkward moment of deciding whether to use a knife and fork or pick it up and nibble away.

In the 13th century, long after the Romans built the bridge that bears his name, a priest, now canonized, São Gonçalo, had “matchmaking abilities.”

There is no word on his personal equipment size. Given the doces fálicos (phallic sweets) or bolos (cakes) that commemorate him, however, it must have been quite something.

The fact that he was run out of town for some long-forgotten reason fuels speculation as to why he is so vividly remembered eight centuries later. Also no word on why he’s revered with pastry — malleable, rise-able, edible…shouldn’t go too far with the metaphors.

Portugal’s penis obsession extends to other products, including bottle openers

Portugal’s penis obsession extends to other products, including bottle openers

The pastries are given as gifts in January so that the recipient will have a fortuitous and fertile year. But the really big celebration is the first week in June, around São Gonçalo's feast day, when Amarante goes penis crazy.

There’s a procession, fireworks, penis bunting, fetching penis deely-boppers and a lot of pastry penis presents to single women looking for love. In other words, the world’s largest bachelorette party.

Phallic baked goods are a common sight in Portugal, especially the town of Amarante

Phallic baked goods are a common sight in Portugal, especially the town of Amarante

The rest of the year, modestly dressed women sit in cafés throughout the country, sipping espresso and giggling as they confront an anatomically correct, carefully circumcised and fully, shall we say, inflated penis dusted with powdered sugar. There is that awkward moment of deciding whether to use a knife and fork or pick it up and nibble away.

Otherwise, if you miss the festa in Amarante, if you’re new to Portugal, if you haven’t seen anyone eating the equivalent of a phallic doughnut, you are left standing in the middle of Porto’s open-air market, staring into a bakery shop window thinking, “That’s not what I think it is. Is it?” –Rebecca