Voyage ~ Highlights from the Yucatán

I don’t know about you but winter has been really rough for me. Luckily, I got a bit of a much needed break a few weeks ago when I got to spend a few hot and sunny days in the Yucatán Peninsula with my parents. We landed in Cancun after spending a long weekend in Mexico City, rented a car and headed out for a short road trip through the Yucatán and the Quintana Roo. Here are some of the highlights from this trip and some great spots we visited along the way. 

COBA

Cobá is about an hour drive from Tulum. The main reason to visit are the Coba ruins, which are set in the dense jungle and are quite fun to explore. 

Coba Ruins Archaeological Park ~ the site is so big you can actually rents bikes to pedal from from pyramid to pyramid, including to Nohoch Mul, the tallest pyramid in Quintana Roo (and the second tallest in the peninsula). Nohoch Mul is actually one of the only Mayan pyramid you can still climb and the view of the jungle that surrounds it is breathtaking from the top. 

El Cocodrilo ~ I admit, I picked that restaurant because it was close to the ruins, had colourful tablecloths AND it’s a ton of fun to say Cocodrilo. It’s also the closest you’ll get to “lakefront” dining at its nicely shaded terrace. It’s also where I had my first pollo pibil and the most amazing chaya-orange juice that began my obsession this chaya, a Mexican tree spinach like leafy green. 

 Cenotes Tamcach-Ha, Choo-Ha and Multum-Ha ~ these cavern-like cenotes, just 6km from the ruins, were the perfect spots take a break from the sun and to cool down with a refreshing dip. 

UXMAL

From Cobá we headed to Uxmal, site of another UNESCO-listed Maya ruin. 

Uxmal Mayan ruins ~ I was blown away by this site and it was SO much less crowded than Chichen Itzá. 

Hacienda Uxmal Plantation & Museum ~ we stayed at this historic resort just across the street from the Uxmal Pyramids. The outdoor pools were a great spot to relax before hitting the road. 

Cenotes X-Batun and Dzombakal ~ these two cenotes on the way towards Merida are practically on the same site but are very different, one being open-aired and the other more cave like. 

The Pickled Onion ~ this charming eco-boutique Bed and Breakfast with traditional mayan huts is a ten minute drive from Uxmal, in the small town of Santa Elena. The restaurant was lovely and perfect for lunch (though I wish we could have eaten pool-side!)

MERIDA

Mérida is the official capital of the state of Yucatán, but it is also considered the cultural and culinary capital of the region.  The city used to be quite wealthy from the production of sisal and I loved its big avenues (its Paseo Montejo was often compared to the Champs Elysees) lined with at times beautiful and at times crumbling colonial era mansions. 

K’u’uk ~ Chef Pedro Evia celebrates the gastronomic history of the Yucatán peninsula with a tasting menu that can feel weird and wonderful at the same time. The mansion that hosts the restaurant is stunning though it could use a new interior designer!

Ki Xocolatl ~ The bathroom at K’u’uk had the most amazing chocolate soap which we traced back to this shop tht specializes in chocolate. It’s in the Santa Lucia plaza, next door to Apoala, one of the best restaurants in the city (which we didn’t have time to go to unfortunately.)

IZAMAL

Izamal is known as the yellow city and for good reasons. It’s a quiet little town 70km east of Merida and yes, all the buildings including the impressive Franciscan monastery, are painted yellow.

Kinich ~ touristy restaurants known for its dzic de venado (shredded venison dish – we had it, it was great) and its leafy courtyard. It was a great spot to try Yucatecan cuisine (and have agua fresca de chaya!)

VALLADOLID

Cenote Zaci ~ I’m an urban baby so I can appreciate a cenote smack in the middle of town 😉

Mercado municipal ~ it wasn’t as overwhelming/crammed as some of the other markets we visited on this trip. It’s a great spot to grab fresh juice and a quick, inexpensive meal at one of the many taquerias that line the building like El Camaron Vagabundo. 

The first time I went to this part of Mexico, we didn’t venture much from the beach (we were staying in Cozumel) except for a quick day trip to Chichen Itzá. I’m so glad I got to see more of this spectacular region and would actually love to go back, maybe in a few years, perhaps at a more relaxed pace… if only because there are over 6,000 cenotes and I barely saw like 5! Have you been to this part of Mexico? Any towns/experiences that stood out?

Weekend Highlights: Flower Crowns, Mucha and Football

Happy Monday! Did you have a good weekend? After keeping a low profile last weekend and throughout most of the week (I’ve had the worst cold!) I made up for lost time and had quite a wonderful 3-day weekend. It all started with rosé and flowers on Friday. 

One of the best part about having friends from different parts of the world is learning about their culture and traditions (oh, and the amazing food too!) On Friday, my friend Bianca showed us how the Finns celebrate summer solstice. Midsommar is one of the most important national holiday in Finland (and it’s a big deal in many other Nordic countries too.) While her rooftop does have a fire pit, we didn’t light any kokko (bonfires) to keep evil spirits away but we did drink some snap and make midsommarkrans,  beautiful DIY flower crowns using string, birch and of course, flowers. Check us out being all crafty!

Making flower crowns for midsommar

Celebrating Finnish midsommar

Almost as good as the snapchat filter isn’t it? ps: speaking of, you can follow more of my day-to-day on snapchat (<– click on the link, or username laetitiabrock).

Saturday, I escaped the city with my friends Olga of MangoTomato and Nicole of Hapatite. We headed to Winchester, a quaint little town tucked away in the Northwest part of Virginia, about an hour and a half away from Washington. 

They love all things apple in WinchesterWinchester, Virginia

Winchester, Virginia

What prompted our mini road trip was an Alphonse Mucha exhibit at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley though we snuck in some shopping in the city’s Loudoun Street Mall and some good eating at One Block West, a fabulous little restaurant, and Red Fox Creamery! And while we had to rush through them a bit because they were prepping up for a wedding, I *loved* the gardens at the museum, almost more than I loved the collection inside!

Alphone Mucha exhibit

The Chinese Garden at the Shenandoah Valley MuseumGardenThe Chinese garden at the Shennandoah Valley Museum

On the way back, we stopped by Wild Hare Cidery for a quick tasting then found our wine (as well as fabulous views!) at Bluemont Vineyard

Bluemont Vineyard

With France playing its 8th of final game bright and early at 9AM on Sunday, I had pretty much written the day off, at least as far as getting anything done beside watching football was concerned. I was a little worried about my choice of venue for the match… Fado’s is one of the best spot to watch football in the city, but we picked it BEFORE knowing that we would be facing Ireland 😉  Things weren’t looking too good when the boys in green scored within the first few minutes but luckily Griezmann was there to save the day and I’m looking forward to cheering on Les Bleus in the quarter finals next weekend (and then hopefully in France for the semis and finals!).

Allez les bleus

Keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll face Iceland, I’ve loved following their Euro Cup Cinderella story… and I’d rather not face England too. Have you been following either the Copa America or the Euro Cup? You’d almost never know there’s a major international soccer tournament that just wrapped up in the US… I feel like it’s barely gotten any coverage 😦 

We’ll be watching the game at Penn Social on Sunday with a bunch of other expats so don’t hesitate to join us! Is it bad that I’m already looking forward to next weekend? Between the July 4th holiday and all the football, it’s going to be another good one!

Pick Your Own Tulips at Burnside Farms

Tulips are a beautiful symbol of spring. In Washington, tulips typically bloom right after the cherry blossoms have come and gone, but they were a little late this year, probably because we’ve had such a cold spring. Over the past 2 weeks though, their vibrant colours have been on full display across the city. 

Tulips at the White House

Tulips at the US Capitol

And just outside of the District, a quick 45 minutes drive away, a farm in Haymarket, Virginia, plays host to one of largest pick-your-own tulips festival in the United States. Nicknamed “Holland in Haymarket,” the festival typically runs late April to mid-May, depending on when the flowers actually bloom. Visitors pay an entrance fee of $3.00, and then there’s a cost per stem for each flower that you pick, depending on the variety of tulips that you select.  

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With tulips of every shape and colour as far as the eyes can see, it’s easy to feel like you’re in Holland for a little while, but just to make sure, Burnside Farms also adds over 200 wooden pairs of authentic Dutch clogs (including a giant pair!) for perfect photo-opps. 

Holland in Haymarket

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All that’s missing really is a miniature (or not-so miniature) windmill or something. And maybe some gouda. You can pick up a basket from a variety that the farm offers, and there’s usually some food vendors too if you want to make a half-day of it (I’m pretty sure you can bring your own picnic as well). For children, Burnside Farms also has a little farm set up, with a turkey, some goats, chicken and little adorable baby chicks on hand… and for grown-ups there are two wineries within a 10 minutes drive 😉 

Virginia is for wine and tulips lovers too, apparently!

Postcard from France: Visiting the Louvre-Lens

Lens, a small town in northern France, boasts a football stadium with a capacity larger than its population, but doesn’t have a movie theater.  A former mining strong hold, its main touristic and cultural attractions used to be world war I cemeteries and Europe’s tallest slag heaps (known by their formal French name of base et terrils jumeaux du 11/19.) That all changed in 2012. That year, one of the world’s most famous museums, the Louvre, opened an outpost in Lens, attracting some 900,000 visitors its first year of operation. While that’s barely anything compared to the 8 million visitors that go through the Parisian museum each year, that’s still very impressive.

Lens is easily accessible from Belgium, the Netherlands and England. It’s also just an hour away from Paris by train, so during my last visit home, we hopped on the TGV to check it out. We rented a car to do a little more sight-seeing beyond the museum but you can also easily do without. Free shuttles bring visitors directly from the art deco train station to the Louvre-Lens and back. Starting in January, the shuttle will also stop boulevard Basly, the main commercial street in the city lined with a few art-deco reconstructed houses, on its way back from the museum.

Gare de Lens

Gare de Lens

Downtown Lens

Downtown Lens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s get back to the main attraction: Louvre-Lens. The sleek, minimalist building, designed by Japanese architect firm Sanaa (they also designed the New Museum in New York City,) is a steel and glass structure on a 20 hectare wasteland that was originally used as a coal mine before the ’60s. On a clear day, visitors can spot the giant through the museum’s  floor to ceiling glass windows.

Can you spot the twin giant slag heaps at Loos-en-Gohelle?

Can you spot the twin giant slag heaps at Loos-en-Gohelle through the windows?

The Louvre-Lens creators have said they want the museum to be a Louvre in its own right, and not just an annex of the Parisian Museum. That being said, the Louvre-Lens doesn’t have its own collection and relies instead on long-term loans from the mother-ship. Since the Louvre has some 460,000 works of art in its collection but only has space to display 35,000 of them, this is actually a mutually beneficial relationship. The first 250 pieces that were loaned to Louvre-Lens have been curated in a rather novel way to give visitors a brand new perspective on some pretty classic art pieces and artifacts. While other museums, the Louvre-Paris included, typically separate artworks by style or era (Egyptian pieces together, renaissance painting separately,) the art at Louvre-Lens is displayed in chronological order in one long, light-filled gallery called the Galerie du Temps (time gallery.)

The "permanent" collection at Louvre-Lens is housed in the Galerie du temps

The “permanent” collection at Louvre-Lens is housed in the Galerie du Temps

We spent two hours going through the collection like we would have reading through an art book, starting with Egyptian antiquities (statues, sarcophagus, etc.,) a statue of Alexander the great, roman mosaics, greek vases and a celestial globe from Iran going all the way to a portrait of Louis XIV, a statue of Napoleon, a virgin and child by Botticelli and yes, a Goya and a Rembrandt too… While we were there, the museum was busy preparing for the opening of a new temporary exhibit, “Des animaux et des pharaons,” focusing on Egypt’s fascination with animals. Every year, the museum will offer 2 different temporary exhibits while changing up some of the pieces in the “permanent” collection, giving residents of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region plenty of reasons to keep going back to their new local attraction.

Chez Cathy, across from the Louvre-Lens

Chez Cathy, across from the Louvre-Lens

Le Centre Historique Minier Lewarde

Le Centre Historique Minier Lewarde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether the museum will provide a long-term economic boost to the depressed town remains to be seen but it certainly cannot hurt. I was glad to visit. While we were in the area, we had some traditional northern-France food at nearby Chez Cathy (the museum also offers its own more elegant restaurant, l’Atelier de Marc Meurin,) visited the excellent Centre Historique Minier Lewarde before grabbing dinner at Aux Vieux de la Vieille, a traditional estraminet in Lille.There’s plenty more we could have done if we had opted to do an overnight trip instead of the day one, like visiting the historical town center in Arras or even going as far as Roubaix to visit Le Musee de La Piscine de Roubaix, a former art-deco swimming pool turned, you may have guessed it, museum. And I might have an opportunity to in the next few years, actually. In 2016, Lens will be one of the host cities for the Euro Cup, which will be held in France between June 10 and July 19, 2016 and which I am totally planning on attending! Its Stade Bollaert-Delelis, which previously hosted some world cup matches back in 1998, will see 3 group-stages matches and one round of 16 match (so if you’re planning on seeing a match there, maybe double down and see the museum too!). Before that, though, the Louvre will further spread its collection, going outside of France this time with the opening of the Louvre-Abu Dhabi scheduled for December 2015.

Giveaway: Chevy-style dinner at Restaurant Nora

Nora, restaurant nora, organic restaurant dcChevrolet is sponsoring a Chevy-style blogger dinner at Restaurant Nora, the nation’s first certified organic restaurant, on Thursday, August 15, 2013 (6:30pm to 8:30pm). Not only is Chevrolet providing transportation in the fuel efficient Chevy Equinox but they’re also footing the bill! And I’m inviting one lucky (local) reader to join me for the evening. If that sounds like something you’d like to do (and you live in the DMV area), there are two ways to let me know: by leaving a comment on this post or by  emailing me at FrenchTwistDC@gmail.com. Just tell me about a road trip that resulted in one of your favourite food experiences. Just make sure I get your name and contact information (email or phone number) and you’ll be entered to win the opportunity to join me (and GregslistDC, DininginDC and Pamela’s Punch among others) at the blogger dinner in true Chevy-style! The contest begins today, July 29th and ends Monday, August 5th. The winner will be picked randomly and announced here on Wednesday, August 7, 2013.

My personal most recent favourite food experience involved a lovely road trip in a Chevrolet Cruze for brunch at the Ashby Inn in Paris… Virginia of course 😉

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Can’t wait to read yours!

Wine Wednesday ~ Vintage Virginia

IMG_1362Thanks to The Hill is Home (and to my friend Lisa who drove us to Centerville) I attended Vintage Virginia last weekend. The annual wine and food festival features the Commonwealth’s best wine (there were 40 wineries representing!), food and music each year during a fun-filled festival at Bull Run Park Special Event Center. Here are a few things I took away from the event:

  • I loved seeing that some of my favourite food trucks (Red Hook Lobster Pound, DC Curbside Cupcakes, DC Empenadas or Big Cheese among others) drove all the way down from DC for the event. I toyed with the idea of trying Grapevine, a Richmond-based food truck, but ultimately couldn’t resist a hot bowl of pho from Phowheels. Pho is not the best in 80+ degree weather and it doesn’t go *that* well with Trump Monticello Rosé 2011. But oh well…I just can’t seem to say no to pho. Plus I cooled down afterwards with one of Sinplicity’s amazing sinwich.

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  • Rebec Vineyards poured an interesting Gewurztramiver. Though I wouldn’t drink a full glass of their Bulgarian inspired spicy sweet wine Sweet Sofia, I was glad to try it. Also, I was glad to hear the winery hosts a wine and garlic festival in the fall. Looks like I’ll be heading to Amherst, VA comes October 12, 2013….
  • Wine slushies are a thing, apparently. Oh Virginia…

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  • While Lazy Days Winery‘s  2010 Malbec is a Bronze Medal Governor’s Cup Winner 2013, it was their Capuchin White (100% Petit Manseng) that really impressed me as a good summer wine. I brought home a bottle.
  • Williamsburg Winery had a sweet Vin Licoreux de Framboise that I could see making a good kir with.
  • Some wineries have very gimmicky names (I’m looking at you Unicorn Winery!) and occasionally decent wine. Who would have thought Well Hung Vineyards‘ wines could indeed “stand up to any occasion.” Also, they have delicious hot and spicy nuts 😉

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  • I tried some wines I’m not proud of, most of them from Peaks of Otter. There was the Mango Tango, the Pina Colada, the Kiss the Devil Chili Pepper or (le gasp) the Chili Dawg. Never ever should you lick cheddar Kraft Easy Cheese (from a can) off your finger before taking a “shot” of wine. Ever. Please France, don’t revoke my citizenship 😉

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  • Wine can be paired with Indian food. Pandit and Dr. Sudha Patil purchased Narmada Winery back in 2009 and now offer 13 different wines which can be paired with Indian food in their tasting room… or at home. While the wines didn’t necessarily stand out as particularly amazing, they were good. As soon as the wine rep. mentioned lamb vindaloo as I was sipping my pour of 2010 Midnight (100% Chambourcin aged in French and American Oak) I immediately thought it was a brilliant call. It’s so hard to pair wine with indian food…

Overall, it was a really fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, try new wines and hang out with friends. Merci again for the tickets giveaway The Hill is Home!

Postcard from France: Metz-merized by Pompidou-Metz!

Like many Parisians, I suffer from a bit of a superiority complex. Growing up in the most beautiful city in the world, I sometime forget that there is more to France than its capital. What we Parisians typically lump together as “la Province” (ie. everywhere outside of Paris) is actually comprised of 21 independent regions, each with its own history, traditions, gastronomy and tourist attractions. Lorraine, in the North East of France, is one of these regions. Until recently it was mainly ignored by pretty much everyone but die-hard quiche lovers. Today, however, even the snobbiest Parisians are planning weekend or day trips to the capital city of Lorraine: Metz And yes, that includes me.

Why the sudden change in touristic fortune? Well, there are two main reasons. The first is that it is now a lot easier and quicker to travel there. By TGV (France’s awesome fast train system), Metz is now a mere 82 minutes from Paris. The second reason is the recent opening of Pompidou-Met. Three months only after its inauguration, the provincial offspring of Paris’ Musee National d’Art Moderne (also known as Beaubourg or Pompidou Museum) has already welcomed more than 300,000 visitors. Inspired by the success of Tate Liverpool or Guggenheim Bilbao Pompidou is the first Parisian institution to export its name, collection, and expertise to a satellite branch in a province.

The original Pompidou was designed to revitalize a large decrepit area of central Paris and Pompidou-Metz is intended to do the same in the ampitheater district of Metz. Architecturally, however, the new museum looks nothing like Beaubourg! The Musee National d’Art Moderne houses one of the greatest collection of 20th century art inside one of the ugliest building ever built in Paris. Pompidou-Metz on the other hand, is a sleek, curvy and airy structure inspired by a traditional Chinese hat. It was designed by architects Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines to accommodate very tall pieces and large art installations, something that the original Pompidou in Paris cannot do.

 

The inaugural exhibit, called Chefs D’Oeuvres? examines the notion of the masterpiece, past, present, and future, through an exceptional selection of almost eight hundred works of art, most of them loaned by Pompidou-Paris. One of the highlights of visiting the new space is also the views it offers onto the city of Metz, particularly from one of the museum’s three rectangular, projected boxes that face the city’s main historic attractions. The Cathedrale de Metz with its 41.41 meters nave (the third tallest in France) is, after all, nothing short of a masterpiece itself.

 

 

So far, the Pompidou-Metz experiment has been an overwhelming success and snobbish Parisians might have to get used to sharing their museums’ collections with the province… and even the world. Indeed, in 2012, Paris’ most famous museum, Le Louvre, will open a provincial outpost of its own in the northern city of Lens. The following year, they will also expend to Abu Dhabi. Adding them to my travel list 😉

[Update: I did visit Lens a few months after the Louvre opened and you can read my thoughts on that one here]

Road Tripping: Naked Mountain Vineyard

It’s easy to get people to flock to your vineyard when your slogan is “Drink Naked”! This small Virginia winery says it sells almost more t-shirt with their motto than they do wine. Nonetheless, Naked Mountain Vineyards and Winery is a lovely mom-and-pop kind of shop, with delightful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a small but charming tasting room and an inviting wrap around deck where you can soak up the sun, while overlooking the vines and sipping a glass of chardonnay.

The winery only produces a few different kind of wines, so sampling all of them wasn’t too hard. I personally preferred the 2008 Cabernet Franc Rosé but my friends walked away with a few bottles of Raptor Red.

Naked Mountain Vineyard & Winery is located at 2747 Leeds Manor Rd / Rt. 688 in Markham, VA, 2 miles North of I-66 at Exit #18. It is located around a number of other wineries including Chateau O’Brien at Northpoint Winery, Fox Meadow Vineyards, Three Fox Vineyards, Linden Vineyards and Phillip Carter Winery.