Thursday, 29 March 2012

South of the border, down Mexico way

I think you know by now I just love Mexico and want to continue to visit every year if I can.  The weather is all but guaranteed, the food is fabulous and the people are friendly .. what more could you want for a vacation from your working life?!!

Having been to Cabo San Lucas and Cabo San Jose, we had the opportunity to join friends further south on the West Coast in Nuevo Vallarta which is situated just north of Puerto Vallarta, a thriving tourist town due to it's climate, tropical beaches and mountains and rich cultural history.  It has a rainy season from July through September so I would not recommend you go at this time as it can be very hot and humid!

There is so much to do in this area - horse riding, whale watching, zip lining, sailing, scuba diving - the list is endless.  Or you can just relax on the beach or by the pool and watch the pelicans fly over looking for their fish dinner. 

Las Caletas
The American director John Huston filmed his 1963 film 'The Night of the Iguana' in Mismaloya, a small town just south of Puerto Vallarta.  Situated nearby is the cove of Las Caletas which is accessible only by boat.  Here you can swim, snorkel and kayak, and have a beachside buffet lunch.  At night the cove is transformed into Rhythms of the Night which features a Cirque de Soleil inspired contempory dance performance reflecting stories and folklore of civilizations past.  On our last night in Mexico we boarded a large catamaran at the Maritime terminal at Nuevo Vallarta taking a sunset sail of approximately one hour to the cove which glowed with torches and candles in the darkness as we approached.  On disembarking we could hear the sounds of drums and flutes summoning us through a jungle setting leading to an amphitheatre where the spectacular show took place.  Afterwards we made our way to the beachside candlelit dinner with the backdrop of waves lapping on the rocks and shore. Simply devine!  The food was a buffet style myriad selection of sumptuous dishes which did not disappoint and the service was second to none!  Then at around 11pm we were called back to the boat where the crew put on a show of their own keeping us entertained and plied with rum punches and margaritas!  A fantastic night and one that should not be missed if you venture to this part of Mexico.

There are no direct flights to PV from the UK so we went via Los Angeles stopping over for a couple of days either side to break up the journey.  Flight time from LA is 3 hours.  Other options could be via Mexico City, Chicago or New York and I would suggest a stopover if you can and have the time .. or your could brave it all the way which would take the best part of a day to get there.

Next stop New York and New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival .. watch this space!!!

Music and movies to brighten up a rainy day in LA

As the song goes, it never rains in California, but man it pours!!  And that's just what it did on my recent trip to Los Angeles, topping and tailing it around a glorious week in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico.  Almost every trip I've ever done to the city of angels at varying times of the year has always produced sunny days, even in the 'winter', so it was quite a change to see the rain lashing down at a 45 degree angle, flash flooding in the streets and literally torrents of water channeling down the gutters of the roads at a rate of knots.

A great place to visit on such a day is the GRAMMY Museum, located at 800 W. Olympic Blvd. in the LA LIVE district.  'It is an exciting and interactive celebration of the power of music occupying a vibrant new space in downtown Los Angeles. Four floors of cutting edge exhibits, interactive experiences and films provide a one-of-a-kind visitor experience — engaging, educational, celebratory and inspirational.'  Tickets are $12.95 for adults - other prices apply for students, seniors, military etc. and is open seven days a week till 7.30pm. It was a fascinating exhibition and a great way to spend a couple of hours or more if you interested in the music industry.  For more information visit the website

Costumes from 'The Artist'
Not too far away is the FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) which has its own museum and galleries.  Admission is free and opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday 10am - 5pm.  The current exhibition and one which I highly recommend if you are interested in costume design for film, is the Twentieth anniversary Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition.  It features over one hundred costumes from twenty films released in 2011 and includes a selection from all five Academy Award Nominees for Costume Design and runs till the end of April.  There are also costumes from past classics including those for Rudolph Valentino and Marlene Dietrich amongst others.  It was a special treat to see the costumes from 'The Artist' in full colour as you can only use your imagination as to what they might be in a black and white movie! 

The next exhibition which will run from July 24 through September 22 is 6th Annual Art of Television and Costume Design.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Nuts about Brazil

I always knew that Brazil was famed for its beautiful sun-kissed beaches, a colourful, lively party-time atmosphere and a rich swirl of samba dancing and bossa-nova music, but I don’t think any preconceived notions of what to expect in the land of carnivals and coffee beans could have prepared me for just how much I have fallen for this incredible country on my recent jaunt there. It was lush, rich, vast, impressive, sexy, heated, bright, beautiful and a thousand other descriptive words which could fill this blog and beyond.

Our journey started, after three flights and 35 hours of travel (not strictly necessary – but always check that your travel agent is booking a direct flight to Rio and not a ‘hidden direct’ which seems to give them free reign to transport you via Siberia should they wish!) at the glorious Iguacu Falls, one of the recently named New Seven Wonders Of Nature. Situated on the border of Brazil and Argentina the Falls make most famous waterfalls look like a leaky tap. Comprising of over 270 Falls including the awesome collection at The Devil’s Throat, it is a destination that I would recommend for anyone who just wants to open their eyes in wonderment, walk into the misty sprays of the Falls and marvel at the sheer magnitude and force of the waterflow. Walkways out into the spray and a bouncy boat trip bumping you into the Falls as near as Mother Nature will safely allow are a must for any visitor – just prepare to get soaked! We spent one day looking at the Falls from Brazil and one day from Argentina and loved every watery minute.

As my best friend now lives in Brazil, our next venture was a flight to Sao Paulo to meet up and then pack up the car to head off on our Brazilian road trip. First port of call was the idyllic coastal village of Paraty, located on the Costa Verde (Green Coast). Famed for its historic buildings, colourful streets and jaw-dropping mountainous surroundings, it’s a place I could happily live out my days. And the food on offer is a dream, especially if you love the tenderest sea bass that is ever likely to swim your way.

Next up we headed to the place that has to be the number one hot-spot for most party-goers heading to Brazil – the wonderful Rio De Janeiro. I squealed with glee as we caught our first microscopic glimpse of Christ The Redeemer (another of the New Seven Wonders Of The World) perched high above the city and I will relive and re-love the expedition to see the amazing statue close up until the day I pack away my Havaiana flip-flops for good. Whether you’re religious or not, the total thrill of seeing this huge statue perched protectively on a hill above Rio’s bay is just out of this world. The only thing that capped standing underneath it was a helicopter ride we took from Sugarloaf Mountain around the Redeemer itself. You literally look into the face of Jesus. I adored it.

Other must-do’s in Rio are watching the sunset as you knock back delicious caipirinhas (Brazil’s national cocktail) on Sugarloaf Mountain and a trip to Ipanema Beach where the beautiful people reside. I defy any UK tourist not to pull in their belly and puff out their chest as you watch a flotilla of perfectly curved ladies and and pec-powered guys sexily sauntering across Ipanema’s wondrous sands. We consoled our out-of-shape selves by ordering grilled cheese on a stick and more cocktails from a passing beach vendor.

Keen to avoid the madness of Rio in full carnival-swing we headed to the countryside for our celebrations to spend five days in the Minas Gerais region at the picturesque village of Tiradentes. By day it was time for relaxation around the pousada (your best choice for good accommodation) pool or marvelling at the multi-hued objects literally hanging out of every shop – it is a souvenir buyer’s dream – but by night…bring on the Carnival! Held to celebrate the end of Summer, the Carnival is five days when the whole of Brazil goes loco. Feasting on the fiesta away from the major tourist spots was a definite winner in my book. As the costumes are fitted, the wigs go on and the make-up gets applied, you can really get closer to the happy hysteria and watch the never-ending processions go by. For five days the whole population of Brazil seems to swap sleeping for dancing. It’s a great way to live…even if your eyebags and hangovers tell you otherwise.

Our final destination was back to Sao Paulo for a look at one of the largest cities in the world. Beautiful it may not be but capitivating and impressive it certainly is. The endless traffic is horrendous but buses and the underground system (soon to be mercifully expanded to cover more of the city) allow you to visit delights like Ibirapuera Park and the dynamically decadent Hotel Unique with its divine rooftop bar.

Brazil shocked me – in the most wonderful way. The people were smiley and happy, the scenery was some of the lushest and healthiest I’ve ever seen and everywhere was a riot of colour. Even the flash thunder storms were warm, wet and wondrous. Our heartfelt obrigados (thank yous) to the Brazilian ‘Crew’ – Mikey (for itinerary and merriment as always), Marcellino (for driving above and beyond the call of duty) and to the fabulous Myles and John for sharing their Dynasty-esque home with us. We loved it, we loved you, we loved Brazil…now we just need to book our next trip!

Thanks for letting me share this on my blog Nigel!! xx 

Nigel's blog