A few days in Scottsdale

The Scottsdale/Phoenix part of my trip is at an end and I couldn’t be happier. I am writing this from the loudest coffee shop I could find, and if I wasn’t waiting for Samer I’d start driving north right now. I’ll get back to my thoughts about this coffee shop, but let me fill you in on what I did the last few days first.

We got to Scottsdale late Sunday night and checked into the Mountain Shadows Resort. I loved this place. It was built-in the 1960’s but is currently being refurbished. Architecturally, it feels retro and decorating makes it feel really modern. The view was nice and the pool was excellent. I’d easily go back to this place. Everything about it felt very hip.

a962c-22708939_1132465806857022_6522087046486425600_n

I spent a lot of my time lounging around the hotel and reading a few different things. It was all very low-key. The first morning I went to Maverick Coffee for breakfast. This was my favorite coffee shop in the area. Cool staff, good food, and very good coffee. If you are hanging in Scottsdale you should stop in. I spent my morning at the pool and the gym. Afterwards treated myself to lunch at Simon’s Hot Dogs. A Colombian family runs this really good hot dog shop. It is great for a cheap eat. I had an all beef hot dog with pineapple on it. It was really good and I’d love to try some of the other ones on the menu.

img_2835
When Samer was done with his conference we went to the Desert Botanical Garden. This garden is beautiful and fascinating to someone who doesn’t have any experience with desert flora. I learned a lot about the plants of the Sonoran desert. There is a type of cactus that is called a cardon and it gets really tall. The botanical garden is big and takes quite a bit of time. The sun went down while we were there, which limited learning about the plants, but it made for a very peaceful walk.


We had dinner at Maria’s Frybread & Mexican Food. I have never had a frybread before, but my understanding is that it is a Navajo food. It’s basically a savory elephant ear that is covered with meat in a red or green chile sauce. They then add some lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese to it and it is a extremely heavy and delicious meal.

The next day I tried a new coffee place called Altitude Coffee Lab. I did not like it is as much as Maverick Coffee. The coffee was fine, the food was mediocre, and the staff did not have it together. It was nice to sit outside, but the old man who let his dog jump on me ten times and the dad laughing at his kid throwing rocks made for an annoying atmosphere. I would skip this place in the future.

Sam had half of a free day, so after the pool we had lunch at Grassroots Kitchen & Tap. I thought the place was good. I had a locally made hefeweizen with an order of shrimp and jalapeno cheddar grits. It  tasted great. It was heavy, but totally worth it. After lunch we visited the Musical Instruments Museum. This museum is excellent. They give you a set of head phones and when you walk close to a display the NFC technology causes the device to start playing. You do not need to type anything in.

I loved exploring instruments from all over the world. There were so many instruments.  I heard great reed based flutes from the Middle East and concertinas from Europe. You could easily spend all day exploring this place. We rushed it, because we got there late, which is a bit disappointing.  However, I did guilt Sam into playing the piano for a second.


On my last day I had breakfast at the hotel (Hearth 61). The chilaquiles were surprisingly good. I took the afternoon to visit the Phoenix Art Museum. It’s an okay museum. There is nothing bad about it, but I think the Philadelphia Art Museum has me spoiled. Very little of the collection was incredible. They did have some contemporary Brazilian art, which I liked a lot.  If I had to pick 1 museum in the area, I’d easily pick the Musical Instrument Museum.

When I left the museum I went across the street for a coffee and some space to write this very blog post. I stopped at Giant Coffee (where I am now.) The coffee is fine, but the music is too loud, the seats are uncomfortable, and they don’t have soy milk (only almond or oat. OAT MILK!) It’s not a great coffee shop, but I suffered through it for you, my loyal readers.

Scottsdale (with a few Phoenix excursions) was a nice break from everything, and I found some good things. I do think I have had enough and it is time to go.  If you are going to spend time in Scottsdale, here is what I recommend doing.

  1. Enjoy the sun by the pool.
  2. Get coffee at Maverick Coffee.
  3. Visit the Musical Instrument Museum.
  4. Visit the Desert Botanical Garden.
  5. Eat at Simons and Grassroots.
Advertisements

Sedona, Arizona

I just visited Sedona, Arizona for the first time and I loved it. Photos do not do it justice. These red rock mountains are some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. We stayed in a bed and breakfast called Adobe Hacienda. The rooms were great and the view was really spectacular. I am glad we stayed out of the town, because we really got to enjoy the solitude of desert.

We arrived late Saturday afternoon and had lunch at a place called Saltrock Southwest Kitchen. It’s a hotel restaurant, but it doesn’t feel like it. We ate on the patio and the view from it is really nice. The food was good and it was a great way to settle into Sedona.

14188-22709365_463643477362512_6045465364484063232_n

That night we decided to go stargazing with a local group. It was great. We met at a soccer field a few miles out of town to get away from as much light pollution as possible. A group of 12 of us met an amateur astronomer who had a lot of knowledge and a very powerful telescope. The first star we looked at was Albireo. It looks like a normal star to the naked eye, but through the telescope you realize it is a binary star system with one yellow and one blue star. We learned about the starts for about 75 minutes and it was really interesting. I also liked to look at the Andromeda galaxy, I thought the view through that was pretty incredible. Even without the telescope the sky was beyond description in its beauty and grandiosity.

The next day we did 2 hikes. We hiked the Devils Bridge Trail after breakfast and Bell Rock in the late afternoon. We tried to do the West Fork Trail but the line to park the car was really long and after we waited for 30+ minutes we decided to leave for Bell Rock. Devil’s Bridge is a fantastic stone arch that you can walk out on and look over the valley. Bell Rock is a shorter hike and there is a lot more climbing on the rock. Climbing makes me nervous but it was nice to be there at the end of the day. You could relax and watch the shadows of the other mountains expand in front of you as the sun set. It was really magical.

We had some good beers and barbecue at the Oak Creek Brewing Company between the hikes. There was no view, but a chilly locally made kolsch after a hike through the desert was perfect. Sedona is one of the most beautiful places I have even been. I want to go back and spend more time here. I took a lot of photos, but

I ate at Pujol and then listened to Mariachi

My vacation to Mexico is almost over, but I thought I should write a quick status update. We are here are on the eve of the Mexican Independence Day celebrations. This has made the city very crowded, very festive, and nearly impossible to hang near the Zócalo. I’ve already seen it, so that doesn’t feel much like a loss to me.

We’ve been using our time to explore the city, relax at the apartment, and eat more delicious food than I can describe. We had tacos arabes at the hole in the wall place called El Greco one night. Yesterday, we went to Polanco to eat at world famous restaurant Pujol. It’s the flagship of Enrique Olvera, and you can go to Netflix to watch a documentary about it.

It’s a six course meal that you get to make choices for a few of the options. Here is what lunch looked like for me:

  • Course 1- Mini Gordita topped with Waygu beef, and baby corn elote with smoked mayo.
  • Course 2 – Sea bass, cacahuatzintle juice, celery
  • Course 3 – Cauliflower, almond salsa macha, chile de árbol
  • Course 4 – Pork chop, red chichilo, and nixtamalized butternut squash
  • Course 5 – Mole madre (1381 days old), mole nuevo
  • Course 6 – Nicuatole

    The meal was not cheap at $100 USD per person, and the price goes up with a a good (no, it was great) bottle of wine and an after lunch drink. This was one of the best meals of my life and one of the best dining experiences as well. I thought it was totally worth it.

    The smoked corn appetizer was brought out in a dried gourd with burning leaves in it to smoke the corn. The butternut squash I had with my pork was incredibly delicious. Course 5 was so amazing. Basically, they serve you 2 dollops of mole. One was made that day, the other was started 4 years ago, and it is refreshed (but never finished) daily. Each mole was complex on its owns, with the older mole (mole madre) being beyond description. The dish is served with tortillas pressed with a hoja santa leaf. I tried the moles separately and then mixed them with the tortilla to finish. I swear, if the waiter told me that Olvera got the recipe from the Virgin de Guadalupe, I would have believed her and went straight to mass.

    They invited us to go to their garden for dessert and after lunch drinks. It was lovely, and no other tables took them up on the offer. We had our drinks, chosen desserts, and an incredible churro to share. When we finished the churro, they offered to bring a second, which we accepted with utter gluttony.

    In the evening we went to Plaza Garibaldi to listen to mariachi music. I really like mariachi music. If there was a coordinate chart with accessibility on one access and complexity of music, I think mariachi would win. Some of the musicians are really quite brilliant, and the music is accessible to everyone. There is no expensive concert hall tickets or “society” pretense. It is sophisticated music for the people, being played by qualified musicians.

    Untitled drawing

    I love vacationing in Mexico City.

     

    Conclusion to our trip to South Africa

    South Africa is a country that everyone must visit. I want to go back and do lots of the other things that I did not get to see or do. I loved this trip and I loved everything about the country.   I am interested in going on safari in other countries.  Even in South Africa, a lot of people spoke about Botswana.  

    The only thing I would change is Victoria Falls.  I think everyone should go and see Victoria Falls, but I may save it for another trip where it is a bit more convenient.   I wish I could have seen the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg.

    South Africa is a meat eating society, so vegans, please note what you are getting yourself into.  One of the guys at our safari lodge was a vegan, and he survived, but everything is meat oriented.  I became very found of game meat while I was there.

    Go to South Africa now.  Learn about the history before you go, and get prepared to see wildlife that you never imagine seeing up close.

    Days 10, 11, 12, & 13 – Kruger National Park

    We landed in the very small airport in Skukuza around lunch time. We decided to rent a car, rather than take the free shuttle so that we would not be limited to the lodge. We spent 3 nights at the Rhino Post Safari Lodge. I love this lodge. I would go back. Our guide, Charles, was delightful, but I am getting ahead of myself.

    When you first arrive at the lodge, the operation is explained to you. Everyday, there are 2 game drives. Those drives promptly start at 6AM and 4PM. That means, you get a wake up call at 5:30 AM and you walk down to the bar area for coffee, cookies, and fruit. Each game drive lasts about 4 hours and half way through (about 8AM) you stop along the side of the road for coffee or tea, and a light snack. When you return to the lodge around 10 AM, there is a large hot brunch waiting for you with made to order omelets and lots of delicious food.

    You now have until 3:30 PM. There are times we would nap, and 2 separate days we took the car out to drive around the park. It’s a really nice way to just relax. At 3:30, high tea is served, which includes a number of hearty hors d’oeuvre. On my first day, I got a cup of tea, even though the heat was intolerable. These 2 funny german guys filled me in on the fact that most people just buy a drink, so high tea, quickly became happy hour for most of us.

    The evening game drive starts at 4, and like the morning you stop about halfway through the drive. The stop tends to coincide with sunset, so it makes for a particularly lovely affair. The guide puts out a nice white table cloth, and serves you your drink (I was normally on rose) and a few heavy appetizers. I loved having the barbeque chicken wings, which became a joke, because I tried to feign indifference to look dignified on day 1, but succumbed to the wings quickly.

    When you get back to the lodge, you are served a proper 3 course meal and then most folks retire to the bar to chat, and discuss what everyone saw that day. That is how each day operates, and it is a lot of fun.

    I thought Rhino Post was really nice, but I am told it is an average lodge. I guess there are some really decadent ones, and some that are basically tents. I thought it was perfect and every staff person was wonderful.

    Now let’s get to the animals.

    91d50-16585512_341132459620298_7777873911185670144_nI was impressed by the animals every day. When we drove to the lodge and saw elephants I was in awe, when I saw a another herd of elephants on our first drive, I was in awe again.  I
    never stopped being in awe. They were amazing. We saw a pride of lions that had 17 in it. None were full grown males, and we never saw a full grown male lion while we were there. Nor, did we see a hippo out of the water, a leopard, or a cheetah, though other people in our lodge saw a leopard one day.

     

     

    231bd-16789432_1289136791139427_1469962774783197184_nWe got close to one rhinoceros and they way it which it pranced away was hysterical. They are really light on their feet and that was a nice surprise.  We saw 2 Cape buffalo on our first day that were not with the rest of their herd.  We saw lots of giraffes, impala, antelopes, zebras, and birds.   I never thought of myself as someone who is into birds, but one of the other guests on our drive was a birder.   She got Holly and myself into spotting them from the vehicle.  By the end of the trip I was starting to get into spotting and identifying birds.

    At the end of our second day it started to rain. The area had not seen significant rain in a long time, so it was desperately needed. I never found the rain to be miserable and there is something quite extraordinary to see a herd of elephants walking through it completely unphased. The rain disrupted 2 things during our time on safari. We were no longer allowed to use the private dirt roads. These are the roads we had some of the best animal siting. Also, we had scheduled to stay in a tree house on our last night.   We could not stay in it during the rain, so we missed this part of our adventure.  Even though the rain got in the way, it did serve a purpose on a personal matter.

    I loved going on safari.  I think a safari is a great way to end a long trip, because it is easy and a lot of fun.  At times you feel a bit sedentary, but I used the time to decompress and reflect on my time in South Africa.

    And here is my conclusion.