May 25, 2011

Kerouac’s Alley

In between a bar and a bookstore in North Beach, San Francisco is an alley where Jack Kerouac was chucked after a particularly boisterous night of boozing. The bar, Vesuvio, and City Lights Bookstore were popular hangouts for the iconic founding father of The Beat Generation and his clan.

Jack Kerouac Alley connects North Beach with Chinatown and is about 60 feet long. On the walls flanking it are murals.

You can pick up copies of Kerouac’s and his Beat brethren’s prose at City Lights and have a drink named after him just a few steps away. Be sure not to suffer the same fate as Kerouac in the alley though - his namesake cocktail consists of rum, tequila, orange/cranberry juice and lime served in an extra large glass.

May 15, 2011

Scenes From A Mexican Market

A lot can be learned about a culture when wandering a local market where few tourists tread. The food, dress and even how a culture celebrates can be revealed. Xochimilco, located in the far south of Mexico City and famous for its canals, has a sprawling market.

The Aztecs farmed here and it comes as no surprise that the produce is made even more exceptional in the way it is displayed.

An entire section of the market is dedicated to dining, with a variety of cuisine simmering.

In the butcher’s section a pig’s head looked as though it could have been equally at home in a biology class.

Large bags of many varieties of chilies were abundant.

There were plenty of stalls selling Chicharones, crispy fried pork skin and a popular snack in Mexico.

Stacks of handmade pottery for which Mexico is well known were available to set many a household’s table.

There always seems to be a section in every big market I’ve been to in Mexico selling an array of colorful piƱatas.

There are certain countries in which markets are particularly outstanding. Mexico is one of them. India and Morocco also come to mind.

What are your favorite “market” countries?

May 8, 2011

Xochimilco, Mexico City’s Ancient Floating Gardens

Floating through ancient canals in a colorful gondola or trajinera might not be what you would immediately associate with Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world. The ancient canals of Xochimilco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the far south of Mexico City, were built in pre-Hispanic times by the Aztecs who created floating flower and vegetable gardens.

Today Xochimilco is a popular place, particularly on Sundays, for Mexican families and tourists to rent a boat and cruise the canals. Many of Mexico City's flowers are still grown here.

Trajineras lack noisy engines and are instead propelled by a boatman pushing a large pole into the shallow waters of the canals. Each bears the name of a woman, are equipped with chairs and tables and are well suited for large groups, who often bring food and drink or buy it from floating vendors who cook on the spot. Floating mariachi bands are also available for hire.

Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site Xochimilco is not over run with tour groups much to my surprise. To get there from the city center take the number two metro (blue line) to Taxquena station where you can catch the light train (tren ligero) to the end of the line, the Xochimilco stop. The trip takes about one and a half hours.

The cost per hour to rent a boat is about $15 depending on its size. It’s also worth taking a walk around the town itself, which has a large market with a large variety of produce, food stalls, everyday items and anything else you may need.