New York – New York

My last stop in the USA was New York City. The bus drive from DC to NYC was roughly 4 hours. As a cliché as it sounds, my first glance of the city was its skyline. As we crossed through Jersey into the Lincoln Tunnel I got a perfect view of the its skyscrapers.

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NYC view from the Rockefeller Centre

I got to the city around 4pm on Thursday, so as soon as I got off the bus I walked my way up to Harlem (where my Airbnb hosts were waiting for me).

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On my way through Central Park I passed by Broadway, Times Square, the Museum of Modern Art and a lot of tourists. After leaving my bag at my room, I decided that I’d get to know the city just by walking around it. My hostess told me to buy a one week subway pass, around USD 32, super helpful in order to hop on and off the subway if needed.

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Harlem, near Central Park, my temporary ‘Hood’

 

Little China and Little Italy were obliged spots to visit. Little Italy had all these restaurants and grocery stores that would drive any cooking enthusiast like me crazy. I sat down at Sofia’s Little Italy and had a glass of white wine and a wee plate of seafood, as if trying to “blend in” with the locals. Well, the Italians know how to interact with the peasants, it was funny and creepy at the same time how this middle age restaurant host talked to a group of tourists trying to convince them to have a bite at his establishment.

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However, Little China was something else, it was crowded and louder, full of aromas and colours, with produce, meat, fish and other goods literally protruding from their stores into the streets. After almost four years, I finally had a steamed bun with lamb just like the ones I had in Auckland, NZ, soft, tender and full of flavour (as you can tell, food is always the highlight of my trips). Go to Grand St and Chrystie St, and just get in the Ken Hing Food Market or Nam Son, that’s a good taste of China Town’s foundations of its cuisine.

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On Friday night I met up with my friend Patricio (another Mexican abroad) at East Village. We had dinner at Cafe Katja, lots of food, great prices and lounge-ish ambiance. Right after we went to the Il Laboratorio del Gelato where I had an amazing vanilla-cinamon-lavender something gelato, glorious.

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Little Italy

 

Of course, as an International Relations enthusiast (and that’s saying little, I’m passionate about human rights and international relations), I had to got the United Nations building, Ground Zero, Trump Tour (aye, you bet your arse I said “Hi” to the orange dude), the Natural History Museum, among other historical places.

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New York City indeed amazed me, it is bright, loud, flamboyant, liberal, multicultural, epic. In times of Trump and desperation (Aye, those words do go together), NYC, just like San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, DC, serves as a beacon of solidarity, diversity, tolerance and freedom.

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Aye, go to Joe’s pizza, it is famous for a reason.

Ps. Trump finally became the 45th president of the USA… I have a bad feeling about this.

 

 

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Charro Beans (Or Mexican Soup)

I was born and raised in the North of Mexico, Tampico is my hometown and I’ll will always cherish my childhood and youth spent there. However, right when I turned 19 I moved to Monterrey, Mexico. So from 10 good years I studied, lived, worked and ate grilled meat (“carnes asadas”) at the City of Mountains and hard working Mexicans.

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While there I learnt to cook “Frijoles Charros” or as I later called it in NZ “Mexican spicy bean soup”. So, don’t be shy, grab pen and paper and write down the following recipe for some kick ass spicy bean soup that will definitely be the final entrée at your home made BBQ this summer (or Fall… screw it, you know I went on holidays, so this is great for Winter too, ok? just be cool with it). Remember, this is not “Chilli”, this is a Mexican spicy bean soup, alright?

Ingredients

  • 2 cans of Cannellini or Red Kidney beans in brine
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 garlic, chopped
  • 3 stripes of smoked bacon (the real deal, you know what I mean)
  • 1 piece of Spanish chorizo in squares
  • Red, yellow and green capsicums squared (1 each)
  • 1 bratwurst roughly sliced (I do prefer either Argentinian sausage or Polish burst)
  • Fresh cilantro (just a handful)
  • 1 smoked chipotle chilli
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
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These are chipotles 

What to do? 

Use a large and deep pot, add the bacon and chorizo, stir around, let those juices cover the wall of the pot, add the onions, garlic and capsicums, stir-fry. Throw in the bratwurst (no pun intended), stir around again, oh yeah, that’s it, you know it. Finally, add the tomatoes, and after a couple minutes put in the beans, brine and all.

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Finally, put the chipotle and the cilantro in. The idea of using the whole chipotle, without chopping it or slicing it is because you don’t want to make this a hot soup, you just want the flavour of this smoked chilli, that’s it.

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Let all the ingredients mix in the pot, now pour in 3 cups of water, let it boil. Salt and pepper to taste.

This my friends, is a great confort food. You can even not put any extra water in it and it is a great side dish for a roast (like pork or lamb).

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In Mexico we can also just buy these and everybody will be ok with that. Kidding, we are not ok with this, go for the real deal

Ps. The year is almost over and we are soon to know who is going to become president of the USA. Aren’t we all excited? Not really, nor of the two options are great for my neighbours, but that shouldn’t be of my business, right? Now, if you excuse me, I have a wall to build.

 

Spanish Tortilla, Bro!

Usually when I’m bored I go for a cooking sprint, and it gets pretty nasty. How nasty does it get? You might be wondering. Well, I go to my local supermarket and simply “go for it”. A bunch of dishes starts to appear in my head, hence, an imaginary list of ingredients types itself in my mind.

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This is just a wee example of my cooking sprints.

Spanish Tortilla

Pick 3 to 5 good size potatoes, the yellow kind, half an onion, slice thinly these vegetables. In a medium size pot, put a lot of water to boil, add 1 spoon of salt and put the potatoes there. Let them cook until soft but still firm. Drizzle a large size non-stick pan with some extra virgin olive oil, stir-fry the onions and a garlic clove (already cut in brunoise), until soft, don’t let them caramelize, don’t add any salt, just pepper to taste. Get those tatoes out of the water, and put them in the pan, stir gently until brown.

In a metal bowl, crack four or five eggs, whisk, add salt, pepper, 2 spoons of water, 2 spoons of sour cream, a pinch of dried parsley, and keep on whisking, who told you to stop? Now, let the potatoes and onions to cool down a little, integrate to the egg mix.

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Now the fun part, use a much smaller pan, like half the size of the one you used previously, drizzle more olive oil, put the stove to medium heat, ready? Add the mix into the pan. Why are we using a much smaller pan? Simple, this will make a thicker tortilla, easier to handle while cooking, and it’ll look great when plating.

Where was I? Right! Let the mix cook in the smaller pan, you’ll notice when it’s ready to turn when the top isn’t runny anymore. I usually put a lid on to get a firmer tortilla. Now grab a plate larger than the pan, put it on top, and flip it, put the pan back on the stove and carefully return the tortilla from the plate to the pan. Let it cook for 4 to 5 five more minutes in medium-low heat.

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Now plate!

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You can double or triple this recipe in order to make more Spanish tortillas, this dish is a great entrée and will not disappoint.

Ps. Mexico City is currently experiencing its worst environmental crisis in 15 years. The local authorities determined that limiting the amount of cars on the streets seemed the logical first step to solve the problem. I reckon that the pollution comes from the industrial zones located in the states of Puebla, Estado de México and Hidalgo. The authorities have done nothing to regulate these zones; in the meantime, Mexico City’s administration still hasn’t presented a public transport improvement plan, just saying.

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This is where I “live”… 

Oaxaca and Mezcal

 

IMAG2351last March I went to Oaxaca City for a wedding, no big deal, it was my second time in that beautiful city, but this weekend I committed myself to get to know a little bit more of this amazing place in the southwest-centre-ish part of Mexico.

First things first, I took a bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca on a Friday. A bus trip surprisingly enjoyable, I must say.

I traveled with ADO as my bus carrier at the 23 hrs service to Oaxaca City, leaving from the Central del Norte (the Northern Bus Terminal in Mexico City), costing around USD25 to 45. The terminal was super crowded as it was prior a long weekend, but nothing to worry about.

We arrived to Oaxaca around 7 am, and from the bus terminal in Oaxaca it takes you no more than a 25 minute walk to get to pretty much anywhere in the city. And believe me, anywhere in the city, so if you are only carrying a backpack, well, before getting to your hotel  go and explore a little.

 

For instance, from the bus terminal to Oaxaca City’s main square (commonly known as Zocalo), it’s about a 20 minute walk, but a taxi could take you there in 5 minutes for USD$3.

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At the wedding there were plenty of friends from my hometown, Tampico, it was very interesting to see all these lads in this part of the country. The wedding’s reception was on that very day, at Tule, Oaxaca, a wee town located 9kms East of the city. Santa Maria del Tule is famous for a tree that lives there, according to a lot of studies, this tree could be up to 3,000 years old, 14 metres in diameter, and often referred to as the “Tree of Life”. IMAG2303Then, we finally got the Hacienda for the celebration, found my table and decided to enjoy a magnificent feast. As entré we had pork crackling, longaniza and Oaxaca cheese, while each table had at least two bottles of mezcal, which was “silky-smooth”, simply beautiful.

As a main we had mole negro (black mole), a typical local dish, which by the way, is the  Pièce de résistance in Mexican cuisine, and the most representative of Oaxaca’s gastronomy.

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On Sunday I woke up craving some market food after a wedding with plenty of mezcal, well, Oaxaca had just the right place for me: the Juarez and 20 de noviembre markets.

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There I had a quesadilla with pumpkin flower and a tlayuda with chorizo. Both markets were loud and alive, like any other market in Mexico, however, the ambiance was different as the aromas were unique and, regardless of the new look the food stands had,the cooking technique used there was refined as a result of years of experience.

Oaxaca City seems to be the right place where to go for a weekend off, a peaceful town where to forget, at least for a couple days, the loud and over polluted Mexico City. I highly recommend it, it has awesome food, great weather, but most of all, it gives the tourist a broader insight of Mexican identity and ethnicity.

Cheers…

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Hot Wings and Beer

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That’s, I reckon, the best title I’ve ever come up with for any of my posts in this blog. The reason for today’s topic is plain and simple, Hot Wings and Beer are awesome (it’s in the bible, look it up)

Beautiful

Beautiful

Here in Mexico City we tend to go for wings every other Wednesday, and when I say “we”, I mean my mates from my hometown who live here and sometimes we bring a special guest. This sort of tradition began with my friends up north in Monterrey, most of them from my hometown, Tampico, used to get together every Wednesday. The day was chosen not because we love Wednesdays, but because of the specials they have that day at this restaurant (Wings Army), you order 20 hot wings they bring you 30. This place, Wings Army, besides serving great wings, also has a wide variety of national and international beers, which is awesome. From the local brews, to artisan beer, all the way to Cuban or great German beer. The place has it all.

Literally, from everywhere, except, you know... North Korea

Literally, from everywhere, except, you know… North Korea

I must admit I don´t really know how they do it, how they cook these wings to perfection, I’ve tried at home and the result is not disappointing but just “not the same”. I’m not going to explain how to cook the perfect wings, or what to look in a hot wings joint. This is just a reminder that there are some things that other do better, and we should appreciate them and munch our way through.

What other dishes you’d love to cook at home but just don’t turn out as good as your favourite food joint cooks them?

Ps, Oh, by the way, do you know that this guy in Guadalajara registered the “Duff Beer” and branded the bottles to commercialize this brew.

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Quesadilla Sans Fromage

For all my American friends, the title of this post is actually “Quesadillas without cheese”, and that´s today complaint.

See that melting cheese coming out of the tortilla... in love dude, in love

See that melting cheese coming out of the tortilla… in love dude, in love

I´ve been living in Mexico City here for 2 years already, and besides being an amazing place full of history and culture and stuff happening around you literally all the time, there´s one thing that I can´t understand.

Quesadilla with chorizo...

Quesadilla with chorizo…

And this sole thing seems to be a concern not only for me but for the rest of the country. Let´s do something together, ok? I want you to picture a soft corn tortilla, nice and freshly made, now, I want you to mentally put some cheddar or Edam cheese (grated) on one of its side, right? Now place that tortilla on the pan, medium heat, cheese side facing up. Imagine how that cheese begins to melt on that soft, freshly made tortilla, right?

That´s what I´m talking about!

That´s what I´m talking about!

Now, we are going to mentally do this together, right? Fold that tortilla, involving that sweet, melted cheese in all its glory. How do you call that?

A QUESADILLA, that´s right. 

Turns out that in  Mexico City, this is a Quesadilla with Cheese, meaning that the term quesadilla, when you order one on the street, doesn´t necessarily mean that they will give you what we just described in the above paragraph. When you order a quesadilla in Mexico City they´ll ask you if you´d like that with or without cheese, or what kind of stew will you like in it, not cheese involved.

Folded into perfection ...

Folded into perfection …

For the rest of the country, a tortilla with anything in it, is a taco, but when it has cheese it becomes a quesadilla (it´s in the Bible, trust me, Deuteronomy or something like that, true story “And Abraham melted cheese on a soft corn tortilla, using the heat of the pit of fire of sins of the gentiles…” ).

That´s the spot...

That´s the spot…

Apparently in Mexico City they don´t respect this, and will often confuse a taco with a quesadilla, only troubling the mindset of the tourists and other Mexicans, offending our history and traditions.

I will not rant about how much this pisses me, and the rest of the Mexican community, off, I rather write these lines to en-light all of you out there.

Whenever you come to Mexico City, it is your right, no! it is your Human Right (universal and stuff) to demand your quesadilla with cheese, always, and to ensure that melting cheese is always part of your gastronomic needs. Whatever they serve you in a tortilla, without cheese, is a taco, period! Quesadilla_de_Queso_by_mclaranium Damn… is anybody else hungry too?

How to Cook an Octopus

To the point, this is one of my favourite things to eat and cook, either in a stew, soup, salad, or grilled, octopus is a very versatile product. As a guy born and raised in the coast, I learnt to eat seafood since I was a wee boy, my mum doesn´t want to tell me the first time I ate octopus, (I´ve told her several times that I´m too old to be taken away from her by social services anyway, but she doesn´t get it), that, along with crabs, ceviche, shrimps, and fish are part of our regular diet.

Anyway, every time I cook octopus my mates ask me how do I know it´s ready to eat. Well, let me tell you how I cook this amazing seafood, while I attempt to post a video of myself putting an octopus into boiling water. (FAIL, I couldn´t upload the video, so, there, have a pic of Mexicans celebrating the CINCO DE MAYO).

What do you mean they don´t look Mexican?

What do you mean they don´t look Mexican?

First, go to your fish market, ready? Good. If you don´t have a fish market, well, so sorry, go to your local supermarket and go to the fish section, I´d rather buy it frozen if you don´t live close to the coast or in the middle of Saskatchewan. If you are buying it fresh, the octopus must have a bright and shiny skin, firm texture from the head to the tip of the tentacles. Now, don´t be shy, grab the octopus, take it closer to your nose and smell it, the scent should be something between salt, the ocean and fishy (and your unfulfilled dreams from high school of becoming a pro soccer player). Have you picked your octopus? Sweet, now ask the lad behind the counter to clean it for you (pretty much taking out the insides and the wee beak it has).

Remember to put the necklace apart and get rid of the double chin

                          Remember to put the necklace apart and get rid of the double chin

Now go to the kitchen, that´s right, take that eight legged bastard to your crib and get things started. Use a medium size pot and pour 2 litres of water, 2 bay leaves, salt, pepper, 1 garlic clove, and 1 quarter of an onion. Put it to boil, now wait patiently until you see the water boiling. Now, as seen in the video, little by little, like if you are testing the water for the octopus, put it inside, this will let the tentacles to take the heat and don´t roll up too much, because this will happen if you place it straight into the pot.

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I once learnt that in order to know how long it takes to cook an octopus, you ought to leave it in boiling water with a potato the same size of the head of the octopus, true story. I´ve tried this several times and turns out that when the potato was ready, the Octopus still needed 20 to 30 more minutes. My standard is an octopus of 500 gr (usually the standard size in Mexico), leave it for 1 to 1.5 hours. Honestly, wait one hour, cut one of the tentacles off and try it. You are looking for a soft, easy to chew texture, slimy outside and well defined inside meat.

When ready, as an easy recipe, cut it into cubes, and stir fry with onions, garlic, paprika, chilies and deglaze with some soy sauce. Serve with some cous-cous or white rice and pair with a Pinot Gris or a nice Rosé.

Or just put it on the grill, beside this nice piece of meat :)

Or just put it on the grill, beside this nice piece of meat 🙂

Mussels and Leffe Blonde

I can´t believe I haven´t told you about my favourite day of the week when I was in New Zealand! It wasn´t Friday, nor Saturday, it was freaking Monday, bro. Monday was the day when my mates and I would take a break and go to De Fontein on Mission Bay. (Wednesday was recycling day and business time, obviously)

Why on Monday? Because if you had your loyalty card you´ll get 2×1 in mussel pots, that meant ordering 1 kilo and you get an extra kilo, served in any of the different sauces they had: White wine and garlic, lobster bisque and brandy, coconut cream and lemongrass curry, blue cheese and spinach, or the chef´s special. My favourite? Coconut cream and lemon grass curry, it was freaking delicious.

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This place was/is always hectic, people waited lined up outside to get a decent table and being able to try its spectacular flavours and massive servings, you don´t only get a pot of mussels, you get the french fries and dipping sauces. But wait, no Belgium restaurant will make sense if there isn´t good Belgium beer to wash down these delicacies.

leffe-blond2My recommendation? Leffe Blonde, its taste, body, and freshness is essential to enjoy mussels and fries and the beautiful view that Mission Bay in Auckland presents you.

Remember that mussels are the cheapest source of protein in New Zealand, as you don´t need to pay more than NZ 3 to NZ 4 per kilo at the supermarkets, and that my mates is freaking nothing, even in comparison with Mexican standards.

If there is something I miss from Aotearoa has to be going to De Fontein on a Monday arvo. Trust me, if you have some spare time in Auckland, take a wee break, go to Mission Bay and dig into that bucket of mussels, just marvelous.

Auckland Eastern Bays

No Sex in the Champagne Room

Wait a second, is it March already? Where the bullocks did this year go? Anyway, so I´m on the hunt for a new place now and I´m quite excited about this. Let´s put it this way, there are many plans ahead and the rest of this year is going to be bloody awesome. Well, except for the fact that Ukraine is in a terrible political turmoil, Venezuela is experiencing an awful social revolution, the Mexican government intends to pass a law that will allow the authorities to block telecommunications in case of national security issues (aye, just like Egypt, Iran, or Syria), and somebody vomited on Lady Gaga for … let´s put it this way: art.

They say it looked a lot like this…

So, one quarter of the year gone already? And what have we learnt so far?

1.- Street food is an awesome sin

This is one my favourite “sports” since I moved to Mexico City, street food here is freaking glorious and without hesitation the best meals I ever had here were on the run.

From pambazos, to “tacos de canasta”, pork crackling quesadillas, or just corn in a cup (no girls); this city is the bomb when it comes to urban/informal gastronomy.

 

2.- It´s ok to protect human rights in other countries except yours

I´m talking to you “Murica”, don´t think we haven´t noticed the amount of people lined up for execution in your penitentiary centres. That´s right, there are several inmates that are there waiting for their lives to be “Terminated” by the American government without a proper trial. If you want to find out more, go to the Death Penalty Information Centre website, and see “who´s next”.

3.- Christmas decorations are fine on February but not March

I´m not going to go deeper on this subject, you know who you are, and no, it is not “ok” to leave them all the way until August and then say “well, Christmas is just around the corner, why bother”. Get those bloody cardboard boxes and put those obnoxious holiday annoyances away!

Neither saying “happy new year” after the second week of January.

4.- No matter what the stripper says, there´s no sex in the champagne room. 

Amazingly explained by Chris Rock on this great 90s hit:

Ps. Remember mates, learn the difference between positivism and optimism, they are not the same, and no, reading Paulo Coehlo isn´t cool either.

Ps2. Speaking of optimism, tend to hang out with happy and optimist fellas, learn from their ability to see the good things in life. Usually these people are empathetic, caring, good listeners and they share their happiness with those around them.

Mexico City: One Year After

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Well, not really, I´ve been in Mexico City for over a year already and honestly I´m loving it. This city is amazing, so alive, so busy, vibrant and full of surprises. Living here was one of my goals in life, regardless of how the rest of the country sees the capital city, the Federal District (or DF as it is known in Mexico) is one of the most amazing urban centres of Latin America.

Just don´t mind this… I mean, sometimes it gets pretty casual.

I got here around the end of January last year, I didn´t know what to expect, but now I can say that this is a great city to visit, live and do pretty much whatever you want (legally, obviously, this isn´t bloody Amsterdam, you know, we are Catholics and stuff).

I still have that crazy bird in my head telling me to do other stuff and fly away, but for now, this place is pretty awesome.

Last weekend I noticed how lucky I am, I went to Reforma Avenue on Sunday. This is perhaps the most important avenue in the country, which on Sundays becomes a pedestrian-only road. On this day you can find people riding their bicycles, practicing yoga or just hanging out around freaking old monuments. 

Pretty awesome day, right?

Pretty awesome day, right?

After wandering around for a while I went for some churros with hot chocolate close to the main square (known as Zocalo) of the city. This place is pretty famous and old, it is called “El Moro” and it is just delicious, for USD$4 you get hot chocolate and 4 large churros, fantastic.

These are the bomb!

These are the bomb!

As well, every Sunday, but in the my neighborhood, the Colonia Napoles, a street market makes this “hood” a literal food parade, where fresh veggies and fruits can be found. Also, taco places and Mexican food stands sell their products to the general public.

These are deep fried quesadillas filled with cheese and pork crackling - Pure love

These are deep fried quesadillas filled with cheese and pork crackling – Pure love

My favourite stand, and I reckon they might know who I am by now is a “carnitas” stand, where they offer amazing pork crackling, pork meat and pork… and more pork, it is just heaven (I love pork).

The heart of Mexico: El Zocalo

The heart of Mexico: El Zocalo

Anyway, the point here is, Mexico City is freaking awesome, give it a chance, and if you are ever around do not hesitate to give me a call, I might even take you to my favourite “carnitas” stand and share a taco or two with you. 

The Soumaya Museum, for example, has one of the largest Rodin´s collection in the world.

The Soumaya Museum, for example, has one of the largest Rodin´s collection in the world.

Ps1. Honestly, that #100HappyDays thingy is really working, I do feel more optimistic and enjoying the simple things in life.

Ps2. Did I mention last time that I found this ubber delicious coffee place just around the corner from my flat? It´s an original concept and the way they prepare coffee is very traditional, not more Starbucks for me on the weekends. The place? El Guapo Café 

Ps3. Wanna see more pics of how is life in Mexico, go for a wee visit to the following link.