Exploring Mexico City

A sprawling metropolis of almost 9 million people, Mexico city has the highest population in North America. A vibrant and eclectic mix of old, new, modern, traditional, classic and contemporary, it is a city that makes you aware of all of your senses at once.

We didn’t really know what to expect when planning our trip to the city; we had heard and read lots of differing opinions, good and bad. Mexico city turned out to be a vibrant and beautiful, but over-whelming location. We really enjoyed our short-but-sweet taste of Mexico.

Here are some of the things we found while exploring Mexico City:


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A city of colour & architecture

The official colour of Mexico City (CDMX) is pink, and you will see plenty of it, particularly the bright pink official taxis that roam the city (although we were advised not to use them as they charge tourists notoriously high fares… We walked or used Uber instead). We also saw every other colour you could imagine adorning shops, stalls, murals, buildings, banners and even the plants and flowers. The smog can make it a little hazy and grey some days, but once the smog clears and the sun beats down, the blue sky is clearly exposed.

Zoccalo is the main historic square in the central city, and it’s worth a visit. When we were there, they were getting ready for Mexican Independence Day, so there were red, green and gold ‘Viva la Mexico!’ banners on the building frontages and a giant marquee in the middle of the square. This main square is encircled by government buildings, a huge old cathedral and even some Aztec ruins.

When we first arrived in Mexico City very early in the morning, we caught a taxi from the airport to our hotel in Zoccalo. It was strangely eerie, as if we had gone back in time; the streets were dark and cobbled, and all we could see around us were the looming shadows of old, stone buildings. Yet when daylight broke, the area transformed into a bustling centre filled with traffic, tourists, noise, crowds, shops, street vendors, buskers and of course traffic wardens blowing their shrill whistles.

We were there in the off-peak tourism season, so we didn’t notice too many other foreign tourists. Most of the people we saw seemed to be locals, if not from CDMX itself, then from other parts of Mexico.
Like any big city, the locals comprise a mixture of business people in suits with briefcases, families with young children and young hipsters with satchels and laptops. Also, akin to many other big cities are the buskers and beggars on the streets - including kids playing guitar and singing along to songs from CoCo, hoping the tourists will fling them a few pesos.

The city has a complex history, and this is evident in the variety of architecture, ranging from roman catholic Gothic churches, to the wide and straight Paseo de la Reforma - a whole street running through central CDMX designed after Paris’ Champs Elysees Avenue.

The greenery is lush, thanks to the mild climate, but just watch your head if you take the open-air double decker tour bus through the city - you might get thwacked by a lusciously green ,but dangerously low-hanging frond.


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Art & Murals

Art runs through the city like blood through veins, whether it’s in the architecture of the buildings or one of the many murals found throughout the city. The murals tell rich and sometimes brutally honest stories; the artists used them to tell stories about the ever-evolving social and political scene in Mexico over the years, and the hardships they faced. But they also depict the many things of importance to them; plentiful crops of corn, mothers holding their babies, luscious bunches of flowers and baskets of ripe fruit.

Muralism has a significant history in Mexico city, some of the most famous examples include those of Diego Rivera, husband of Frida Kahlo. The murals can be found all over the city, some of them in the busy tourist buildings, on rooves and walls of old buildings and markets, down random side streets and many other places, both exposed and hidden. On a Market tour of the city, our lovely tour guide took us behind some fencing at a small market and up a staircase to find a host of murals covering the walls and ceilings.
They were honest, and unforgettable. Depicting peasants, gaunt and starving, and politicians growing fat on the monies extracted from the people. There was also a whole mural depicting Nazi Germany of WW2, in the stark, ominous colours of black, white, grey and red.
We were the only ones there, the place seemed quiet and forgotten compared to other areas of the city filled with people and noise. It was strange to think that behind the hustle and bustle of this busy city, there were places like this where pictures of the past were sitting quietly, waiting for curious eyes to find them.

 
 

Of course, some of the busier tourist spots were still must-sees and worth the waiting in line. One of these being the Frida Kahlo museum, which is the house where she and Diego Rivera lived. The dwelling is made up of a collection of quaint buildings that surround a wide, open courtyard with plenty of plants and foliage. From the walls, to the furniture, the art and even Frida’s belongings, you can see a rich array of colours; aquamarine blue, salmon pink, mustard yellow, earthy brown, verdant green and many more. You can walk through the various buildings and rooms of their home and see some of her works of art, and also the areas she lived and worked in. This includes her work shop, complete with a desk and the materials she used for her artwork, and also her bedroom with her death cast is lying on the bed. One room also houses her unique and intriguing clothing, including the corsets and support system she wore underneath her outer clothing that helped sustain her body through its various pains and disabilities.


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The Markets

The nation is a religious one, we saw plenty of statues of various saints and of Jesus himself, particularly in the markets where a lovely guide led us on a walking tour around the city.

The Flower market had blooms of every kind and colour. Stalls displayed wreaths and arrangements for many different occasions.

 
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The Food markets had many traditional staples of the Mexican diet including the ‘bread and butter’ of the country, corn. Among the produce there were lots of vibrant, colourful and deliciously ripe fruits and vegetables. The meats on display were a little bit different from the typical butchery windows we’re used to seeing, but they clearly use every part of the animal. Alongside your usual cuts, there’s plenty of other ‘parts’ for sale, including many a stack of intestines and other more unusual looking things layered up ready for sale. The chickens on sale look strangely yellow, but we learned that there is a reason behind this. In the past, the chickens in Mexico were corn-fed, which made them turn yellow. However, at some point in history the government realised it was a bit of a waste feeding the chickens corn, which could be better used to feed the people! So, they stopped feeding the chickens corn, and instead fed them other grains. However, the fowl started to look different, paler, and without that yellow hue, so the people became a little wary about buying the chicken meat, as it just didn’t look quite right to them. So, they started feeding the chickens marigold flowers, which once again left the chickens with that golden hue as before, yet enabling the corn to be kept for feeding the people rather than the animals - win, win, some might say.

We were also taken to the ‘Witches’ market - which did not have potions, cauldrons or ‘Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans’ like we might have expected. Instead, it was mostly herbs and other dried plants which apparently help with different ailments such as respiratory problems, digestion, sleeping and, of course, broken hearts! There were also perfumes and soaps that you could buy for yourself or a loved one (or even an enemy) which promised things like fortune, luck, love or curses. There was an area with animals for sale, though we’re not sure for what purpose so we are relieved we didn’t find out or go into that area - you could smell it wherever you went in the market, so we can only assume the conditions weren’t ideal for the poor animals.
Some of the more strange and disturbing sights, were the dried skeletons of cats and monkeys! Again, we are not quite sure what they were used for, but we’re okay with not finding out. There were also a few stalls that offered palm-reading or fortune-telling services, if we spoke or understood Spanish of course.
And, yes, plenty of stalls that sold statues of more saints than I knew even existed - including the patron saint of Mexican Drug Dealers or the hopeful growers of particular plants, Jesús Malverde, and also the controversial religious cult following of Santa Muerte - the Lady of Death.

 
 

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The Pyramids & Rural life

Not too far out of Mexico city, we visited the pyramids of Teotihuacan, also known as the Sun and Moon pyramids. Standing on top of the Moon pyramid looking towards the Sun, down the alley of the dead - it’s breath-taking. Not only do you get an amazing view of the valley and nearby villages, but you look down at what was once a thriving city and centre of obsidian crafting and realise you are standing on ancient stones and in a place so steeped in history it’s hard to imagine what went on there. When the time comes to climb the Sun pyramid, staring up at the steep ascent is intimidating, but once you reach the top it’s well worth it.

Throughout this tourist spot, there are old men selling trinkets and souvenirs, including a whistlecarved from obsidian that sounds like a wolf howl.

Our visit was part of another day tour, and afterwards we headed to the nearby village of San Francisco Marzapa to visit a family of Obsidian crafters. They were friendly and welcoming, and happy to share their skills and knowledge. They had lots of beautiful carvings and trinkets on display, and even gave us a taste of Mexican liquor - pulque, mezcal and Tequila.
Apparently the correct way to drink it, is to salt the lime, squeeze the juice into your mouth, hold it there and chase it with the tequila before swallowing the whole concoction all at once. Delicious!
We were also shown a huge agave plant in their back yard, and we learned of the many uses of this very useful plant.

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After this, our tour took us to another family business for dinner, where our host had prepared a delicious, home-made Mexican dinner of fresh tortillas, tortilla soup, rice, meat and vegetables.
A simple, yet delicious way to end our tour, before our bus ride back to the city.

 
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Noise and Traffic

The city is certainly a feast for the visual senses, but it’s also full of noise, sometimes overwhelmingly so! Near Zoccalo and other busy areas, you can hear the piercing whistles of the local policemen directing traffic, screeching in your ear, but also helpful when giving you the signal that it is safe to cross the road.

The street vendors and buskers have various items and services for sale, and a few of them create some sort of honking or kazoo-like noise to attract attention. The buskers will often have a guitar or music box in hand, and music pours out of the shopfronts and onto the footpath.

The traffic alone can be overwhelming to experience; the honking of car horns, cars rattling past, buses, scooters, trucks too.
But they are all masterful at managing to weave in and out and merge throughout the gridlocked madness. We were told more than once by the locals, “if you can drive in Mexico city, you can drive anywhere!”
We think it might be better to leave it to the locals - just trust the driver and look out the window at the cars and the city whizzing by.

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The Food

It’s hard to know what to expect of the food when visiting Mexico; in the western world we see ‘Mexican’ food as Nachos with sour cream, crispy Tacos, massive burritos with rice and beans, and lots of cheese. But when you visit Mexico, you realise the food is very different from the impression that the western world has created.

Corn is a very important staple, you will find it in pretty much every form - even diseased.
Along with corn, there was a range of meat cuts taken from pretty much every different part of the animal, some rice and beans, vegetables like capsicum/peppers and cactus, fresh fruit and delicious stringy cheese. Salsa exists at most food stalls, and there are plenty of options for treats - Mexicans have a sweet tooth!

Morning Start

At the food markets, we tried a couple of different styles of corn for breakfast - in the form of a Tamale (corn dough with a sweet or savoury filling wrapped in corn husk or banana leaf), or a cup of Atole (a hot, creamy drink made of corn and sometimes flavoured with chocolate). These two dishes are usually taken around Christmas time, but can be found around the city and street markets - a simple, yet filling breakfast that will keep you sated all morning. For coffee - there are plenty of options, but we’ll talk about that later.

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Tortillas & Salsa

Corn tortillas can be bought by the dozen at the local tortilleria; the price is capped by the government, to keep this important, basic food affordable to everyone. On our first day, we arrived early, dropped off our bags at our hotel, then headed straight to meet our tour guides for a street food tour. They took us to a neighbourhood tortilleria and we got to look at the giant tortilla press, the mounds of masa (corn meal dough) and then taste a fresh, hot tortilla. There’s a special technique to rolling it in the palm of your hand, and you can add salt and salsa if you wish. Delicious!

Many street vendors and tortillerias will have 2-3 bowls of salsa to compliment whatever dish they’re selling. Usually one is red, one is green, and they range in spiciness - and colour is not necessarily an indicative guide! Some places the green will be the hotter, sometimes the red, so if you’re up for it, give them a go, they are the most delicious, fresh and zesty salsas you have ever tasted, just go easy on the drops in case you get the hotter one!

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More Corn

We also tried some corn soup at a market, the girl selling it was working for her mother before and after school and was eager to practice speaking English - the corn soup was warm and tasty.
Another corn dish we tried a couple of times was the diseased corn. Apparently at one point in history, a fungal disease affected significant areas of corn growth, but rather than waste it, the Mexican government decided that they should still use it - and it became a delicacy.
It is a grey colour and the ears look a little misshapen, but it’s not too bad; we thought it had a similar taste to mushrooms, but we recommend trying it in small amounts to start with, as it has a rich flavour.

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Tacos

Tacos can be found at many street vendors and stalls, but they are a bit different to Old El Paso or Taco bell. A fresh, soft tortilla is filled with your choice of delicacies which you can then top with one of the aforementioned salsas if you wish. The fillings range from vegetarian-friendly options like cheese, vegetables and cactus, to meat-based choices, mostly chicken and pork. It is important to mention that they use ALL parts of the animal, so depending on what filling you choose, you will probably get a mix of meat cuts in there, including the occasional grizzly bit. We were a bit adventurous and even tried the local delicacy of a taco with pig uterus inside - it had a strong pork flavour; but there are plenty of more tamer options to choose from.

Aside from tacos, you can get sandwiches, quesadillas and burritos. All have a range of fillings to choose from, and can also be topped with salsa if you want.

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Cactus

Another popular local flavour that we tried a few times was cactus - we found it had a similar taste and texture to pickled green beans. Apparently, it’s full of fibre and quite good for you.

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Traveling pains…

After the first few days, we did both get tummy aches, however we don’t believe this was from the preparation or handling of the food, but rather just a culinary shock to the system for our western palates. The food was good, and we tried lots of different things in our first couple of days, but it was different to the fare we usually ate - different cuts of meat, but also a lot of corn, when we are probably used to a more wheat-based diet. So next time, we would probably pace ourselves a little better.

Another note of interest, is the water - don’t drink it. We had bottled water free at our hotel, so we barely needed to buy any, but it can be found pretty easily and inexpensively around the city. You are also supposed to be careful and use bottled water even when brushing your teeth as well, but we forgot a couple of times and managed to get by without too many issues.

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Sweet stuff

Mexico seems to have a really sweet tooth! There are lots of sweets and candies on sale at street vendors, and in the shops. We had read about a long-time favourite place that we wanted to visit - El Moro, a churreria, which specialises in churros (delicious Mexican pastries) and divine hot chocolates.
We were lucky enough to catch it mid morning on a weekday, so the lines weren’t too long and we were seated pretty quickly.
However, be warned, this place gets very busy at the weekends!

It’s a busy, quaint place decorated with blue and white tiles, with a view of the kitchen where the churros are being made right before you. Our Español and our servers’ English weren’t great, but we managed to put an order together.
Soon enough, two plates of fresh, hot churros and steaming mugs of hot chocolate were before us. They were delicious! We knew we were going to be facing a sugar overload afterwards, but we didn’t care, sometimes you just have to enjoy the moment!

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Coffee

One of the main attractions behind our visit to Mexico City, was the chance to taste the local coffee there.

Mexico is unique in that the nation mostly drinks coffee grown within the country itself. So, when you are in a cafe or specialty coffee house, you are usually experiencing a local flavour that is incredibly fresh due to the shorter distance it needs to travel.

Like any major location, Mexico City has a wide range of options for coffee drinkers - from the more commercial chains like Starbucks, to the stylish Hipster-esque espresso bars and all the more casual local coffee places in between.

We tried a good range of the places we wanted to visit, but still feel like there was plenty in and around the city that we didn’t get to.

Here is a slideshow of the coffees and places we did manage to try out.

While we were there, we also attended a coffee tasting and cupping workshop at Café Borola. We booked this through AirBnB (interested? Check it out here), and it was a great choice. We learnt a lot about tasting coffee and how to prepare pour-over coffee. Our host, Ricardo was incredibly warm, friendly and knowledgeable not only about coffee but about Mexico City in general, and he was always happy to answer any questions or make recommendations of things to do and places to try on the city’s coffee scene.

 
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Mexico City is a vibrant, busy city and a great place to visit as a tourist. There were some things about the city that we found we could easily liken to other places we have visited around the world, but plenty more that was very new to us and such an interesting experience.

As with any visit to a new location, be sure to do your research beforehand and take the necessary steps to ensure you can enjoy your adventures safely and wisely.
With our limited Spanish (almost zero!), we found day tours with local guides a great way to see, hear and taste some of what Mexico City had to offer, whilst also feeling comfortable and not out of our depth.

Hopefully we can return to Mexico, not only to the big city, but to experience more of the country as a whole.

Have you every been to Mexico? Let us know how you found it, and if you have any recommendations of other places to visit when in country, we’d love to hear about it.

Thinking of making a trip to Mexico? Get in contact with any questions you have and we’ll be happy to answer them as best as we can.

Until next time, happy adventuring! :)

A quick (and nerdy) trip to Austin, Texas

A good excuse to see a new city, or even a new country, is an event. Be it a concert, visiting a friend or family member, a special occasion, festival or convention. For our trip to Austin, Texas it was the latter.

Rooster Teeth (an internet based company that makes podcasts, videos, movies and more) has been holding RTX in their home-town of Austin since 2011. It is a convention/expo which consists of panels, live shows, premiers, stalls and more. They have since expanded to Sydney and London.

This wasn't our first RTX, we actually went over to Sydney a couple of years ago for the very first RTX Sydney. So this year, while on the great big continent of North America, we wanted to take the chance to go to the original RTX in Austin. We also figured it would be a good excuse to visit a new city.

Video games and nerdy pop culture aren't necessarily the first things that come to mind when you think of Texas, but they definitely have a presence and even add to the dynamic and unique feel of the city of Austin. The city is laid-back, while also proud, and seems to embrace different cultures existing within it, including video game ‘nerds’, anime fans, ‘geeks’ and more.

There were still many of the elements you would expect when visiting the Southern state; country music played in restaurants and shops, hearing “y’all” actually being used, BBQ joints with their glossy array of meat served by weight, and Tex-Mex specialties like breakfast tacos.
However, there was also plenty that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from Texas. As we walked around the downtown area, we saw electric scooters available to rent, art-house cinemas outnumbered mainstream multiplexes, and rather than seeing an endless row of all the usual shops and fast food restaurants, there was a vibrant and unique array of independent restaurants, bars, shops and businesses.

Most of our time was taken up by the Expo, but we did manage to explore Austin a little bit. Here is a collection of things that we did, and also things we noticed about the city. It might help you get an idea of what to do if you’re heading to Austin.

NB: We feel obliged to mention the heat… If you’re not from a city (or country) that is consistently 30-40+ degrees Celsius, then you ARE going to find it hot. There’s no fighting it, you just have to accept it and let the sweat flow. On a positive note, the Texans are as equipped to deal with heat as Canadians are with snow; every building has air-conditioning and we found plenty of places around to fill up our water-bottles. That being said, prepare yourself…dress light, don’t exert yourself and drink plenty of water.

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RTX 2018

If you are a fan of Rooster Teeth, we highly recommend visiting one of their expos at some point. Unlike other expos where you often just spend time walking around looking at stalls, RTX has a huge schedule of many different panels and shows, as well as a selection of stalls, signing events, community events, meet and greets and more. You can pick and choose what panels and events you attend according to your interests and timing. We attended all 3 days, and found plenty of things to fill up each day comfortably. Panels covered a wide range of topics such as video games, animation, cosplaying, anime, writing, video editing, vlogging, comedy and plenty more. They also had guests such as Mega 64, Houston Outlaws and Meg Turney.
We found the event to be really well organised, it seemed to run smoothly and getting into the expo was fast and easy with little to no lines.
To make everything fair for all attendees, they only allowed line-ups to begin 1 hour before a panel, and when lines were formed they were organised and orderly.
We found we were able to gets into in all of the events we were interested in, except for some of the super popular ones (e.g. Achievement Hunter, RTPodcast).

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Bats on Congress

From March to November, Congress Bridge in downtown Austin is home to about 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats. Not long after the sun sinks behind the horizon, the bats begin to emerge in a stunning synchronization and fly off into the night for their nocturnal feeding habits. People line the bridge around sunset and wait so they can watch this phenomenon.
We did this on one of our first nights, and ended up returning twice more because we found it so wonderful to watch. It is a truly amazing experience to be on the bridge and see a cloud of bats flying into the twilight, and it is staggering to see just how many bats live under the bridge (this event can last over 45 minutes). They can fly quite close to the side of the bridge, so if that makes you a little nervous, stand back a bit to feel more at ease. On the other hand, if you want to get up close, there are a selection of boat and kayak tours that will take you onto the water of Lady Bird Lake so you can watch the bats emerge from a different perspective.

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Food

There is A LOT of delicious food to choose from in Austin. TIP: It’s best to visit hungry!
Firstly, let’s address the BBQ… Texas is famous for it’s BBQ (particularly beef), and if you are a meat-eater you should definitely try it. It can be a little intimidating to walk into a BBQ restaurant and try to read their ‘Menu’, which usually consists of different types and cuts of meat and the weight in Ounces and Pounds, but the people of Austin are really nice, and will help you if you seem a little confused. It is a little heavy on the digestive system, so keep that in mind when ordering; don’t go if you want a ‘light meal’, share with someone else or with a group to taste more but eat less, and don’t be afraid to take some away in a ‘doggy bag’ if you can’t finish it.
Don’t necessarily skip the sides either (corn, potato salad, mac and cheese etc.), they will help to counter-balance out the mass of meat you’re about to ingest, and they are also really good!

Texas is also the birth place of Tex-Mex (Texas-Mexican food), but the main food item you should try in Austin is breakfast tacos. They can be found in a few places around the city, and there are plenty of varieties and flavours to choose from. Much like BBQ, they are not something you’d want to be eating every day, but still a delicious thing to try when visiting the city.
Look out for the Migas taco, which is an Austin specialty with scrambled eggs, tortilla chips and toppings.

Other great food options to look out for are sandwiches (get as a meal with the potato chips!), fried chicken, hot dogs, burgers and pizzas…basically all the American foods you know and love.

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Drinks

Austin has a legendary bar scene, in particular the infamous area of 6th street, which is located in Downtown. The street is dotted with many bars, clubs and restaurants and closes to traffic in the evenings and weekends.
Don’t just stay around 6th street though, as there are plenty more worthy places not far from it (often less crowded, more classy ones).

We went to CU29 for some delicious, elegant cocktails and the bartender there gave us a great run down of the bar scene and some ideas of where to go. Another place worth a mention is Red Headed Stepchild Bar, AKA Floppy Disc Repair company - a speakeasy style bar that requires a secret code to enter.

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Coffee

With everything else going on in Austin, we were expecting much more of a specialty coffee scene there. However, we didn’t find a lot of good coffee spots, particularly in the Downtown area where we mostly spent our time.

We ended up going to Houndstooth Coffee most days, the only good coffee shop we could find near Austin Convention Centre. They had different beans to choose from for Espresso or Drip coffee, and the drinks tasted pretty good - not too sour or bitter, with a little sweetness. They also had a small range of light breakfast/snack options to choose from e.g. banana bread, breakfast tacos, nut bars, cereal.

On our last day we ventured a few blocks out to a place called Better Half Coffee & Cocktails - we don’t remember how we found the actual taste of the coffee, but we do remember finding the drinks a little lukewarm. They had a good food menu though, and quite a large space with seating options inside and outside.

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Cinema

An interesting observation we made while in Austin, is that the city seems to have more small, independent Cinemas than large multiplex chains. They are serious about their boutique cinema scene, some even having strict ‘No Disturbance’ policies, where you will be asked to leave for talking or using your phone.

Independent cinemas often mean smaller, stylish theaters and a unique range of films to choose from and support. They often also have a menu of great food and drink options to enjoy while watching a movie.

We managed to fit in a visit to the Violet Crown (pictured above) to see Eight Grade and we really enjoyed both the movie and the experience of the cinema itself. We would love to explore more of the cinema scene in Austin next time.

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Other

Some other things to note/check out:

Texas State Capitol
Hard to miss, in the Downtown area, cool building to look at, though some of the statues/memorials around the outside are uncomfortably pro-Confederacy

Rent-a-Scooter
This is a cool and fun-looking option for getting around the city. You just need to download an App onto your phone and scan the QR code of the scooter, and you’re away. They are electric, so don’t require too much effort, and they look super fun!
You do, however, need to be able to use Mobile data for the App (so we couldn’t try it).
Just be careful and mindful of pedestrians and cars - the rules for riding these scooters are the same as riding bikes.

Festivals/Special Events
There are plenty of events that happen each year in Austin (e.g. Austin City Limits, South by Southwest) and it can get very busy when they are on, so just bear this in mind when planning to travel to the city. It might give you a reason to visit Austin, or it might give you a reason to move your trip dates slightly to avoid the crowds.


We really enjoyed our time in Austin and at RTX, but definitely feel like we only touched upon the surface of this effortlessly cool and unique city. We would absolutely return to explore it more (and just brace ourselves for the heat)!

Food Adventures in Portland

We recently spent some time in Portland, Oregon. A city known for being 'home of the hipster', visiting Portland is less about seeing tourist spots and sights, and more about experiencing and tasting what the local community has to offer.  

Many food establishments place emphasis on their use of locally sourced and in-season ingredients. It is also a very eco-friendly, socially conscious city, that supports many diets; from vegans to omnivores, vegetarians to carnivores and everything in between. As a result, the Portland food scene consists of an array of unique flavours, delicious dishes, tasty treats and so many choices and food experiences it's hard to decide where to start. 

Bonus: Being in the state of Oregon, where there is no sales tax, your meal out, morning coffee or shopping trip will cost you a lot less than you might be expecting. 

We had just a short time in Portland, but we made the most of it with plenty of 'walk-sploring' and plenty of tasting. Here's some of the good, the interesting and the not-so-good food we tried in the 'City of Roses'.

NOTE: For this post, we are introducing a rating system for the food we tried:

 

🍽️                      Not good, didn't want to finish
🍽️🍽️                 Okay, wouldn't return
🍽️🍽️🍽️            Good, nothing special
🍽️🍽️🍽️🍽️       Great, would go back
🍽️🍽️🍽️🍽️🍽️  Excellent, a favourite!

 

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Portland Saturday Market

Old Town/Chinatown

A nice way to spend a sunny Saturday (or Sunday) morning, this market displays a huge assortment of goods, mostly from local artisans, producers and sellers. Food, art, clothing, jewellery, soap and health products, garden ornaments, cooking spices, honey, plants and so much more. 

They also had a row of food trucks/stalls, so after you've spent your morning wandering the wares, it's a great spot for an early and casual lunch. They had lots of options from all over the world, and all at very reasonable prices. We tried Fish and Chips, and Northeast African food, which were both delicious.

For more details of their market, check out there website here

Ratings:

'Chowder Heads' - Fish and Chips
🍽️🍽️🍽️ - A little greasy, but seafood was fresh and tasty

'Horn of Africa' - Northeast African Food
🍽️🍽️🍽️🍽️ - Delicious taste, lots of options on menu

 

Chowder heads

Chowder heads

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horn of africa


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Doughnuts

Featuring Voodoo Doughnuts

Just next to the Saturday Market, is the infamous doughnut store Voodoo Doughnuts. The line is consistently long, but moves pretty fast. They have a decent selection of interesting flavours and uniquely decorated doughnuts, alongside some more classic flavours if you don't feel like being too adventurous. 
For some reason they only take cash (though there is an ATM in the shop), and they hustle customers through like a herd of cattle, so it pays to make up your mind about which items you'd like before you get to the counter.

The doughnuts were fine, though we think it's definitely a case of hype over substance. The gimmick and appearance of both the store and the donuts surpasses the taste of the doughnuts themselves. 

There are quite a few other doughnut stores in the city, so we would have been interested to try some other ones to compare - particularly Blue Star doughnuts. However, we ran out of time to visit those.
Next time, we would check out one of the other stores before returning to Voodoo, but we're glad we tried them out. 

Rating:

Voodoo Doughnuts
🍽️ 🍽️ 🍽️ - Interesting experience, average doughnuts.
If you are a big fan of doughnuts you might be into it.


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Ramen

Featuring AFURI ramen + dumpling

We usually find some sort of Japanese food wherever we visit - and this place caught the eye of our vegetarian travel companion. The space was bright and open, with a nice aesthetic. 

The ramen was pretty tasty. It strayed a little from the classic Japanese style, but the flavours were refreshing and they had good vegetarian and vegan options. The temperature of the ramen broth could have been a little hotter for one of the dishes.

We didn't quite have the appetite for ramen AND dumplings, so would be interested to try the dumplings next time. 

Rating:

🍽️🍽️🍽️ - A nice meal, good to try ramen with a more unique flavour


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Ice cream

Featuring Salt & Straw and Ruby Jewel

As we walked around the city, we discovered an extensive selection of two kinds of treats: doughnuts and ice cream. 
The weather was warm and summery, so it was the perfect excuse to try some of the latter. 

After spending a morning wandering through Forest Park, we walked back into town and past the first scoop shop we tried, Salt & Straw. The staff were very friendly, and the flavour selection was exciting and unique, using locally grown and produced ingredients.
We got a flight to share with 4 different flavours; Birthday Cake & Blackberries, Wasabi and Raspberry sorbet, Freckled Woodblock Chocolate and Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper.

The second scoop shop we tried was Ruby Jewel, a bright pink, retro-style shop that offered cones, cups, sundaes and cookie sandwiches. This place had slightly more conventional ice cream flavours, but nonetheless it was delicious and offered a more classic ice cream parlour experience. Here we tried 2 flavours; Honey Lavender and Double Chocolate

Ratings:

Salt & Straw
🍽️🍽️🍽️🍽️ - High quality ice cream, interesting flavours

Ruby Jewel
🍽️🍽️🍽️🍽️ - Ultimate comfort flavours, plus a few different ones for those willing to try

Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw

Ruby Jewel

Ruby Jewel


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Pizza

Featuring Sizzle Pie

We walked past this place almost every day, and it was also right over the road from Powell's Bookstore, so we took it as a sign that we should try their pizza. They had a good selection of meat based, vegetarian and vegan flavours available, and they also offered pies, slices and half slices - top marks for flexibility and choice. 

The pizza itself was classic New York style and all the slices we tried in our group were delicious. Between us, we had Cheese, Spinach & Mushroom and Pepperoni - classic flavours, done well. 

Rating:

🍽️🍽️🍽️🍽️ - Good pizza, good options, good time


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Korean BBQ

Featuring Kim Jong Smokehouse

When you put the words 'Korean' and 'BBQ' together, we are intrigued. It's always interesting to taste a Western-Asian fusion restaurant, and this place did a pretty good job of blending BBQ style smoked meat, and the flavours of Korean cuisine. 
Probably not the best Korean nor BBQ food we've had, but it was a nice meal with good service and a great selection of local beverages on offer (the ginger beer was amazing!). 

We both had Bibim Bap; one with Honey Gochujang Chicken, the other with Galbi Beef Short rib, and both smothered in delicious Gochujang BBQ sauce.
The meat was a little dry and overcooked, but the dishes were tasty and had a good level of spice.

Rating:

🍽️🍽️🍽️ - Good meal, the overcooked meat was a bit of a downer, but we would definitely try this place again


Vegan BBQ

 

Featuring Homegrown Smoker

Carrying on with the BBQ theme, we heard about a vegan BBQ joint, and were interested to give it a try. Google maps did NOT make this an easy place to find, as it kept redirecting us to where their old food-truck used to be, but we eventually got there, hungry and ready to try something different. 

They had an extensive menu, with a plant-based version of many American BBQ classics, such as Macnocheese, Tempeh Ribs, Chikn and Soy Curls. We chose a selection to share in our group. 

First things first, the dishes didn't taste very much like their animal-based counterparts. However, as a plant-based option, everything was damn tasty. It was also really filling, and we couldn't finish everything we ordered. Go with an open mind for flavourful, comforting plant-based food. Don't go expecting exact vegan replicas of meat dishes. 

Rating:

🍽️🍽️🍽️🍽️ - A fun experience with a unique take on vegan food

 
deep fried pickles with vegan dip

deep fried pickles with vegan dip

 

There are so many food, drink and treat options on offer in Portland, it can be hard to choose where to go and what to taste. We really enjoyed exploring the city and getting a taste of the local flavours and food specialties. 

We feel like we barely scratched the surface with this unique and beautiful city. It seems like the kind of place where you would be constantly finding new and exciting things to eat, drink and do.
Are there any places in particular you would add to our list?
Anywhere we should check out if and when we go back?

Let us know here! We'd love to hear your thoughts and recommendations.

Coffee Adventures in Halifax, Nova Scotia

We booked overnight flights, so as to save money on accommodation. We had read about that "tip" on a travel blog, aimed at travellers like ourselves; young(ish), low on funds, high on travel aspirations. It seemed like a good idea at the time...yet we soon remembered, an hour or so into the flight, that our brains have a slight, no, moderate aversion to sleeping in a plane, car, train, basically anything other than a bed really. 

But it was a means to an end, and it got us where we needed to go: Eastern Canada.
We were really excited to see the complete opposite side of Canada. And especially to explore the Coffee scene outside of B.C.

Flying out of Vancouver, Monday night

Flying out of Vancouver, Monday night

Flying over Eastern canada, Tuesday Morning

Flying over Eastern canada, Tuesday Morning

So, we managed to lightly doze our way through the 6+ hour flight from Vancouver to Halifax (with a brief stop in Montreal). Needless to say, we emerged into the chilly eastern air, tired, groggy and a little worse for wear. 

After collecting our bags and picking up the rental car, we already knew what the next, and vital step was: Finding a good cup of coffee.

From the Airport, it was a short drive into the city, including a bit of scrambling to find a spare coin for the toll bridge (a "loonie"/$1 coin will do!). We parked, did some quick research on our phones, and decided which coffee destination we would start our Eastern explorations with. 

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1. The Old Apothecary

Bakery and Cafe

From the parking lot down by the waterfront, to The Old Apothecary, there was a KIND OF BIG hill. That, paired with the fresh and biting wind of the Atlantic Ocean, sure woke us, and our appetite, up. Once we found the cafe, we were immediately charmed by the exterior. It had a boutique style, elegant, yet simple.

We stepped inside and found colourful furniture, rustic brick walls, quirky decor and a nice looking selection of desserts and baked goods.

Lemon meringue tart seemed a good choice for breakfast at the time (blame the sleep deprivation), and we paired this with a Latte + Double Macchiato. 

Our experience:

Food - the Lemon Meringue tart looked really good, and the taste was really nice. The meringue was well done, not over- or under-cooked. 

Coffee - the Taste of the coffee was okay, but the milk texture wasn’t great. The Latte came out more like a Cappuccino. However, the milk wasn’t burnt and the overall flavour still held well. The Barista probably just needed to hone their milk texturing technique. 

Would we visit again?
We would go back there to try more of their baked goods.

Lemon meringue tart for breakfast, solid choice

Lemon meringue tart for breakfast, solid choice

sweet selection at the Apothecary cafe and bakery

sweet selection at the Apothecary cafe and bakery


The next day, we had a busy day of driving planned to explore the East coast of Nova Scotia. We needed coffee and a snack to start the day before heading out, and were happy to find that one of our pre-researched coffee spots was right down the road from the Hotel we were staying.

 

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2. Dilly Dally 

Coffee Cafe

A small, cozy place; light and bright and busy, but didn't feel cramped. They had lots of good cafe-style food to choose from, including cabinet and menu items.

We went for the Veggie Bagel + Coconut coffee Muffin + Latte + Flat white.

Everything came on mismatched, antique crockery, which looked cool. The staff were hipsters, but seemed friendly enough.

Our experience: 

Food - Muffin had unique flavour and tasted pretty good, though it was a tad dry. The bagel was really good, and they cut it in half for us without us even asking, which was nice service.

Coffees - Very good taste and they had pretty good-looking latte art.

Would we go back? Yes, and we would be interested to try more of their food/menu too.

 
dilly dally eats

dilly dally eats

 

Our third, and last day in Halifax. We had read about our next spot and were keen to check it out before heading to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

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3. Grafton Cafe

 

by Scanway


Scanway bakery’s specialty is their baked goods, and when you first walk into this cafe, that is apparent. They had a big selection of breads, baked goods, and a cabinet with some great looking doughnuts.

It was one of those moments when you just accept your fate and eat pastries, because, well, why the heck not...we got a pain au chocolate + white chocolate blueberry doughnut + Latte + Double Macchiato.

Our experience:

Food - the pastries, as expected, were really good. It was a little bit of a sweetness overload, but that was due to our choice of goods.  

Coffees - Unfortunately, I would say their specialty lies in their baked goods, and baked goods alone. We may have just got an inexperienced barista that day, she did seem kind of young. The milk was piping hot (burnt) and the taste of the espresso was bitter and ashy.

Would we go again?
We would probably return for the food; it would be a good place to go grab some baked treats to share with friends, family or workmates. 

 
Grafton cafe

Grafton cafe

 

Wandering around the Maritime Museum for a few hours, and our time in Halifax was drawing to a close.
We had a longish drive ahead of us to our next destination, and wanted a little fuel to keep the fire going, our next stop had been on our radar, so we mapped our route out of the city and made sure to pass it on our way out.

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4. Two if by Sea

Cafe

When we pulled up to park outside Two if by Sea, we were a little apprehensive upon seeing the brick facade and old fashioned awning. We wondered if it might be a little dated, with not-so-good coffee. 
But, as they might just say, "Don't judge a cafe by it's facade". Once we stepped inside, the interior was much more new and modern. It was light, open and fairly busy.

We were looking for lunch, and at first were a little disappointed by the small selection of baked goods on offer. But then we noticed a winding staircase leading to a second level, and were happy to find some food options up there too (more on that here).
Once we had lunch, we headed back down the spiral staircase to grab some drinks to go. We also checked out the merchandise. There was a good selection of general merch and also coffee to purchase, and we bought a t-shirt.

Staff were a little spacey, or awkward, or shy? We couldn’t really tell which, but they were nice enough. We ordered coffees (Latte + Double Macchiato), and picked up a cookie for later, as they looked too good to miss.

Our experience:

Coffee - Great texture of milk and the overall flavour of the coffee was very good. My 12oz Latte tasted a little weak, so next time I would check the espresso to milk ratio when ordering, and possibly go down a size, or add another espresso shot to get more strength in flavour.

Food - the cookie we had later on, and it was really good! It was oatmeal chocolate chip, with a blend of spices, so it had a great flavour. Texture was good too; firm on the outside, soft on the inside.

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Our time in Halifax was short, but sweet. It's a small city, a little bit quirky, and with lots of character.
We would definitely like to go back, should the chance arise, and could see it being a cool place to live.

In our adventure to find good coffee, we managed to go to 4 of the coffee places that we wanted to visit, and out of those we had some pretty good coffee.

We have no doubt there are a probably a few more good coffee spots hiding away though. Or if not yet, in the near future the city will see growth in the coffee and food scene.  

Have you experienced good coffee in Halifax? Or in other parts of Nova Scotia?

Let us know! We're curious to hear more...


Food and Drink Adventures in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia lies on the East Coast of Canada, and makes up what is known as the "Maritimes", also including New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. It's main city, Halifax, has a long and vibrant history, resulting in a varied selection of good food and good drink options to be found. The Maritimes are probably most well-known for the seafood, however we found there to be so much more on offer than just seafood. 

We had just over 2 days in Halifax, so were time limited. However, we still managed to squeeze in a taste of the local flavours. 


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1. Chain Yard

Urban Cidery

We found Chain Yard Cidery after a quick Google search of places to eat within walking distance from where we were staying. It peaked our interest on-line, and in person, it did not disappoint.

The decor is urban, rustic, and chilled out. Dimmed lights and a glowing red neon sign gave the place a night time glow well-paired with good food and alcohol. We were seated and served extremely well by the waiter; the service was excellent. 

Our experience:

Food - We chose a few small plates to share and it was all REALLY good. The kitchen was pretty small, so it was impressive with how quickly the food came out and at a high quality. 
The dessert was amazing!

The plates we chose were: Scallop Arancini + Southern Fried Chicken + Apple cinnamon crumble with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce

Drinks - We chose 2 flights: one had four Chain Yard ciders, and the other had four local "guest" ciders. The presentation was unique, and the names were written under each small glass, which was great, because we knew what we were drinking and didn't have to try memorise what the server told us. There was a good variety of flavours in each flight, and it was customisable, so you could choose the ciders that interested you to try. 

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2. Good Robot

Brewing Company

We had researched this brewery back in B.C before embarking on our trip, and it was on our list of places to try while in Halifax. It also happened to be not far from where we were staying (I guess everything was..? Halifax isn't huge).

They specialise in beverages, but they have paired up with local food places who will come and cook in the corner of the bar to offer things to eat as well. We just had beer this time, but the food and menu looked good.
As it was Winter, inside was humming, but we managed to find seating. We can imagine some evenings getting pretty busy, but in warmer months, they have a great outdoor area, which would spread people out a bit. 

They also had a shop on-site where you could buy Drinks and Merchandise to take home.

The decor was cool, and we're always interested to see different and unique ways to display flights; here they came in a muffin tray which was pretty inventive and deserved a mention. 

What we tried:

"All you can Eat" Coconut IPA - we really liked it, and it wasn't all just talk; it actually had a coconut flavour. Delicious.

Flight of 4: El Espinazo del Diablo, We're not Bitter, Dave and Morley 4.0, But Wait there's More
As with Chainyard, you can mix and match your flight, and there's lots of interesting options to choose from. The four we chose were all very good, but our favourites had to be these two:

El Espinazo del Diablo - with Lime and Jalapeno; some zest and heat. Like the coconut IPA, it really did taste like it said it might and the flavours were well-balanced. Recommendation: try this last if in a flight, as the warmth from the Jalapeno can linger and affect your taste of the others!

Dave and Morley 4.0 - this was a coffee brown, and of course we will try almost anything with coffee in it. The taste was deep and dark, and the rich coffee flavour came through well. It was almost like drinking a cold brew. 
 

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3. Studio East

Food + Drink

After trying out the some local beer at Good Robot, we wandered to our next spot. We were ready for some food, and possibly a few more beverages, as it was Wednesday Tiki Night at Studio East. 

The place was cosy, and decorated accordingly. We were seated quickly, and right next to the Tiki bar, which allowed us a Front row seat to watch the bar tender at work.  

We ordered some unique cocktails, and after perusing the menu, chose some food to share.
The staff were charismatic and friendly. The kitchen and bar wasn't huge, but they really worked their space and it seemed to be running like a well-oiled machine. 

What we tried:

Drinks - For Tiki Wednesday, the bartenders create 3 feature cocktails. The 2 we chose were the "Cinnamon Girl" and the "Sleeping Giant". Now, we don't have a good recollection of what exactly was in them, but we do remember that they tasted amazing! They were fresh, full-of-flavour and the display and garnishes were excellent. 

Food - Calamari Pakora + Dumpwing + Ricebowl with Pork Belly. The food was excellent. Particularly the Ricebowl, which had extremely tender pork belly, and some amazing house-made kimchi.    

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YeahYeahs

Pizza

On our way out of Halifax, we stopped in Dartmouth to check out a coffee shop (more about that here). While there, we stumbled across our last foodie stop before heading to our next destination.

Yeahyeahs offers New York style Pizza sold by the slice, and by the pie. A few choices of flavour kept it nice and simple. The decor was also simple, but stylish. 

What we tried:

A slice of cheese and mushroom + a slice of pepperoni. 

Both flavours tasted really good, and there was a good ratio of toppings, cheese and base. They weren't too greasy, and we liked that the flavours were kept simple, but they still had ample flavour and taste.

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Overall, we enjoyed getting a brief taste of Nova Scotia. As we travelled in Winter, there were a few places and areas closed for the season, so although it was good to go when there weren't too many tourists around and the hotel prices were a little lower, it would be good to go back to sample more in the warmer seasons. 

As for seafood, we didn't end up having a lot of it in Nova Scotia, but later on in our Maritime travels we did eventually get to taste some. You can read more about that soon. 

Any other local food places in Nova Scotia that you think are worth a visit? Let us know