Hotel Review: Hotel Casa Blanca Mexico City

Hotel Review: Hotel Casa Blanca Mexico City

Overview: While it may be fitting for those traveling on a budget, this is most definitely not a five-star hotel. Don’t let the advertising fool you: You get what you pay for.

Hotel Casa Blanca
Lafragua 7
Colonia Tabacalera
Delegación Cuauhtémoc
Mexico City, Mexico
+52 (55) 5096 4500
reservaciones@hotel-casablanca.com.mx

While Googling places to stay in Mexico City, I was surprised to find a five-star hotel (according to its website and Google, at least) for just $54/night. After reading decent reviews, I booked four nights at Hotel Casa Blanca.

The first thing that struck me about the lobby was how dark and, frankly, ugly it was. The marble floors, brown paisley benches, and giant abstract sculptures looked like they’d been put up in the 50s — and not renovated since. One consolation was that they gave out water flavored with pineapple and watermelon. The jugs were the nicest-looking things in the lobby.

I hoped my room would be more attractive, but it kept up the theme of old-looking wooden furniture and pasty, porous white walls. One window-covered wall let lots of light in, but I had to keep the sheer curtain up over it because it faced the courtyard, so people from the other rooms could look in. The mattress was firm, leading me to wake up with back pain, though the pillows were squishy. Instead of a comforter, there were two thin blankets, one woven and one softer. The atmosphere felt kind of depressing, so I turned on some TV in Spanish to lighten the mood.

hotel casa blanca mexico city

The bathroom was adequate, with bar soap, shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner, but the shower was small and a bit dark, since there was no light in there. There weren’t any electrical outlets by the bed, so I had to work from the desk if I needed to plug anything in. The WiFi was decent but a bit slow when I uploaded images and watched videos.

The lobby wasn’t well-suited for work either: The benches got crowded as guests trickled in, and the tables were low and far away from the seats. I snuck over a couple times to work from the Meridian next door, which had nice furniture, a conveniently located outlet, quicker WiFi, and a Starbucks downstairs.

My first night, I ate from the buffet at Hotel Casa Blanca’s restaurant thinking I’d get to try authentic Mexican food, but most of it was actually not Mexican: The main dishes were a confused mix of penne alla vodka, fish fillet, fried rice, mashed potatoes, and refried beans. There were a few good Mexican desserts, though, including flan, plantains with cream, and rainbow jello. Still, I’d recommend that anyone seeking good Mexican food go across the street to the restaurant in Sanborns.

Many of the hotel’s online reviews talked about its location, but other than its proximity to the Plaza de la Republica and a bunch of restaurants and food stands, I didn’t find the area to be anything special. Most of the surrounding buildings were other hotels or touristy restaurants. (At one, I got enchiladas with barely melted cheese slices on top and liquidy guacamole.) With heavy traffic and many streets missing crosswalks, just crossing the street was stressful.

While it may be fitting for those traveling on a budget, this is most definitely not a five-star hotel. Don’t let the advertising fool you: You get what you pay for. If I could go back in time, I would’ve paid twice as much for a bed I could sleep well in and an interior I liked to look at.

Rooms:

Family rooms with two double beds and two pull-out sofas available.

Uncomfortable beds.

Tech:

No outlets by the beds.
Wifi adequate but slow for video.

Family-friendly amenities:

Swimming pool on the terrace.
Bike rental available.

Food options:

Two restaurants and two bars on site.
Many restaurants and food carts nearby.

Deals and Activities Nearby:
Parking:

Free covered parking available.

Suzannah Weiss

Suzannah Weiss is a freelance writer and editor currently serving as a contributing editor for Teen Vogue and a regular contributor to Glamour, Bustle, Vice, Refinery29, Elle, The Washington Post, and more. She authored a chapter of Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and frequently discusses gender, sex, body image, and social justice on radio shows and podcasts. Whoopi Goldberg cited one of her articles on The View in a debate over whether expressing your desires in bed is a feminist act. (She thinks it is.)

A family trip to Greece

A family trip to Greece

Our guest post today comes from Bernard Sury of GuruWalk, who writes about his family trip to Greece.

A Family Trip to Greece

Planning to have a family trip to Greece soon? What a brilliant idea! I honestly had one of my best family trips in Greece.

Expecting the Belgian summer to be as rainy as it is in winter, my parents, my sister and I were looking for a sunny destination combining culture and leisure. After considering Croatia, my mother’s love of Greek food tipped the balance in favor of Greece.

But where to go in Greece? Getting lost on small island, in busy Athens, or in the countryside? Well, there were as many options as there are sunny days in Greece.

Passionate about Greek mythology and history since I studied it in high school, going to Greece without seeing the Acropolis would have been unimaginable. Flights were also cheap to Athens, so we decided to spend some time in the city. However, as any capital city in the world can prejudice your view of what the rest of the country actually is, we were looking for adding another destination on our travel in Greece. My sister had heard friends’ amazing stories about Crete, like hiking in the Samaria Gorge which is Europe’s longest, and swimming in some of the most crystalline water of the Mediterranean Sea. The choice was made.

Day 1

We left Brussels late on a July afternoon. After leaving the luggage at the hotel, our first goal was to have the best dinner the Greek capital could offer us. After doing some internet research we found Lithos not so far from the hotel, and had a delicious moussaka.

Day 2

The next day, our first trip was to see the Acropolis early in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowd. This visit was wonderful. We remembered all the stories we had learned at school, seeing the most beautiful ancient Greek ruins, including the Parthenon and the famous Caryatids. We learned that the Parthenon survived for a long time in a good shape until Greek people decided to store gunpowder there, which caused an explosion in 1687. The view of Athens from the top is stunning.

The Perthenon

The Parthenon and its tourists (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

After a quick lunch, the weather was becoming very heavy and warm. We decided to spend the afternoon at the Acropolis Museum, one of the most important archeological museums in Greece. The museum was modern, contrasting with the ancient pieces within. It is a great complement to a visit of the Acropolis itself.

Caryatids at the Acropolis Museum - Family Trip to Greece

Caryatids in the Acropolis Museum (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

 

Day 3

On our third day, we decided to spend some hours doing a Free Walking Tour of Athens to get to know more about the history of Greece, but also to learn about its current situation. It was very interesting and entertaining and we had the opportunity to ask many questions to the local guide. We also had the chance to see the changing of the guards at the Greek parliament (only on Sunday at 11am!).

Changing of the guards in front of the parliament.

Changing of the guards in front of the parliament building. (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

In the afternoon, we had to pack again and take off for Heraklion, Crete. We took a plane and in less than one hour we landed on the Greek island. Upon arriving at the airport, we found our rental car and drove to our rental apartment in Panormos. To get there, you will take the local highway, which is basically one main road crossing all Crete. Arriving at Panormos, the contrast with Athens was striking. Panormos is small village – touristy but still authentic, and even if tourists filled the streets, it was not as crowded as Athens. There is not much to see but it is a good spot to see the surroundings of the city.

The author and his sister at the small harbour of Panormos

The author and his sister at the small harbour of Panormos (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

 

Day 4

The next day, we headed to Rethymnon and visited the ruins of the Venetian Fortezza. This was the fortress or citadel of the city and was built by the Venetians in the 16th century. Well restored few decades ago, the site is worth a visit for its beautiful vistas of the sea and some ancient buildings such as the Mosque of Sultan Ibrahim (the site was indeed also occupied by the Ottomans).The site is huge and you can easily spend hours strolling through it. My sister and I loved playing in these well-preserved ruins.

The author's family at the top of Venetian Fortezza

The author’s family at the top of Venetian Fortezza (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

.

 

Lost in a maze of ruins

Lost in a maze of ruins (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

We went back to Rethymnon city and had an amazing lunch with a view of the marina and some traditional live music. Both in Athens and Crete, it is very easy to find a good restaurant mainly because there are so many! In Crete, you usually pay 10 euros for lunch or dinner, so we tried a lot of local restaurants. Most of the time, you will even receive some fresh fruit for dessert, perfect with the hot weather. As a sign of Cretan hospitality, you will always receive a typical and strong digestive alcoholic shot after eating dinner. However my mom always politely refused it as she was driving.

 

Live music by the marina

Live music by the Marina (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

 

Day 5

The next two days were for “chilling” at two of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. If I did not know I was in Crete, I’d have thought I was in the Caribbean, as the water was of an unreal perfect turquoise.

The first beach stop was Elafonissi. There are no words to describe how heavenly this place is. However, it was very, very, very crowded. It would be awesome to enjoy it in September or October when there are fewer tourists.

Day 6

The second beach was Balos. It takes hours to go by car and once you arrive, you are in the mountains, so you still need to walk about 40 minutes down to the beach. You can also go on a day trip by ferry and if I were to return, that is exactly what I would do. Nevertheless, the view from the mountain is beautiful.

 

Look at that gorgeous blue water!

Look at that gorgeous blue water! The beach at Balos (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

Overall, it was an amazing trip. Everything was perfect: the weather, the natural and cultural activities, the delicious food, the local people… It was a trip to paradise and I would love to go back.

What was your most memorable experience?

I love to travel back in time and learn more about the ancient Greek lifestyle. I was studying ancient Greek language at school for 5 years and experiencing all these places and imagining the history there was very strong. But also, the Caribbean-style beaches of Crete were breathtaking.

What do you wish you had known before you left?

I knew that water was not drinkable and that we always had to drink bottled water. Once in Crete, we were at the restaurant and received an open bottle of water. We thought that the waiter just opened it before serving it to us, but it was in reality tap water. The day after, I was quite sick. But thankfully it did not last long. But now, I would never accept a bottle of water I did not open myself at the restaurant. Even better, drink wine!

Details and budget:

For the budget, the most expensive purchases are the plane tickets (300 euros from Belgium), the rental car with gasoline (250 euros) and hotels (350 – 500 euros), But activities (6 – 15 euros) and restaurants (10 – 15 euros) are quite cheap.

About the author:

Bernard Sury of GuruWalk

Bernard Sury of GuruWalk

An avid traveler, Bernard is always organizing his next trip, with friends, family or alone. Addicted to sunny weather, he has mostly traveled in the warm destination such as Southern Europe, South America or South-East Asia. Fluent in Spanish, English and French he has lived in 4 different places in the 4 last years. Back from South America, he learned more about his own city, Brussels, and even became a Greeter and a Free Tour Guide for some months. His passion for traveling brought him to be expat in Spain working for the international community platform for Free Tours Guruwalk.

 

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way With Kids

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way With Kids

CAPTURING CULTURE WITH THE CLAN:

Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way with Kids

By Sara Aitken and Deborah Schull

 

Mullaghmore Along Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way with Kids

Viewed from the town of Mullaghmore on the County Sligo coast: Benbulben Mountain and Classiebawn Castle

The beauty of Ireland’s west coast might cause the uninitiated to assume it offers only photo ops for sightseeing grownups. But cherished childhood visits to the beach at Mullaghmore in County Sligo–enjoying fish and chips at the Pier’s Head and laughs at O’Donnell’s, my granda’s favorite pub–have taught me it’s the experiences, not so much the objects of attention, that create lifelong memories. And now, the Wild Atlantic Way, a stunning 1500-mile touring route launched in 2014 that spans the country’s entire west coast, is revealing itself as a major conduit of culture, offering kids vivid experiences and parents irreplaceable moments en famille. Tracking nine counties, from Donegal in the north to Cork in the south, the Wild Atlantic Way does not disappoint.  

Donegal to Mayo

Inishowen Peninsula on Ireland's WiId Atlantic Way with Kids. Photo Credit: Patrick Mackie. Used under a Creative Commons License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

On County Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula stand Malin Head, the most northerly point in the Irish Republic, and the Grianan of Aileach Ring Fort

Overlooking County Donegal’s Lough Foyle at the northernmost point in the Irish Republic, the Inishowen Maritime Museum and Planetarium at Malin Head is an ideal spot for learning about local maritime history, lighthouses, shipwrecks, and World War II. Kids can enjoy the life-size models of the Basking Shark as well as the planetarium, which features shows about prehistoric sea monsters in addition to the solar system.

In Tubbercurry, County Sligo, Gillighan’s World is a magical cultural paradise for adults and children alike. While escaping to the “Field of Dreams” atop one of Ireland’s sacred hills, the family will enjoy art, a lush landscape, animals, and ancient ruins while learning about Celtic lore, particularly of the mystical faeries.

Clare Island on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way with Kids. Photo Credit: Roberto Strauss

Clare Island in County Mayo abounds in archaeological sites and traditional music and dance events

In County Mayo, a short ferry ride from the Roonagh Pier will bring the family to Clare Island, the sparsely populated home of the illustrious and ever-popular pirate queen, the real-life Gráinne O’Malley, who ruled the Ó Máille clan as a formidable chieftain in the 16th century. The ruins of her stronghold, the O’Malley Tower House, stand near the water’s edge. In the summer, Clare Island hosts traditional music and dance festivals such as the Snás ar do Bhlás and the Clare Island Feile Ceol.

For an even deeper experience of traditional Irish culture, visit Glencolumbcille Folk Village in southwest Donegal, a “living history” museum with cottages replicating those that stood in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Pick up a cupla focail (a few words!) and enjoy live demonstrations of traditional weaving, spinning, and knitting.

Galway to Clare

In County Galway, just outside the village of Kinvara, the Burren Nature Sanctuary has something for everyone, with domesticated animals, a Famine Village, and a Fairy Woodland. After exploring the surrounding grounds, kids can unwind in the Adventure Playground and soar over the park on ziplines.

The Burren on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way with Kids. Photo Credit: Mike Brown. Used with permission.

The Burren of County Clare encompasses 150 square miles of geological wonder, including the Cliffs of Moher

County Clare’s Burren National Park is a strangely beautiful karst landscape, where the dissolution of soluble rocks has created a lunar terrain featuring caves, springs, and sinkholes. Measuring 702 feet at their highest point, the Burren’s Cliffs of Moher are a sight to behold for the whole family, and its trails are safe and accessible for all ages. The Cliffs Exhibition encourages children to experience through all of their senses the area’s remarkable fauna and flora, which include some species that exist only there.

Kerry to Cork

At the Titanic Experience in County Cork’s Cobh Town, kids can imagine what it felt like to be a passenger on the ill-fated ship, in Queenstown, its final port of call. Cork also hosts a variety of family-oriented festivals throughout the year, including the Eyeries Family Festival, where music, sports, local food, and street performances are on tap.

Model Railway Village in West Cork on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way with Kids

The Model Railway Village in West Cork is an entrancing model of Cork’s old railway line, perfect for children or the avid train enthusiast.

In West Cork, the Model Railway Village channels local history amidst picturesque Atlantic views. Located in Clonakilty, the miniature village replicates the old West Cork Railway Line of the 1940s. While learning about life in the railway town, kids can hunker down among the model trains, kick it in playgrounds, and take a Choo Choo Ride.

Dursey Island on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way with Kids. Photo Credit: Jennifer Farley. Used with permission.

If you’re brave enough, the Dursey Island cable car is a spectacular way to travel from Beara Peninsula to Dursey Island in County Cork and the only cable car of its kind in Ireland

For the little ones, County Kerry has Fairy Trails at Derrynane House and Parknasilla Resort. To finish the trip, take in the view of Dursey Island from a cable car suspended over the Dursey Sound.

 

Cultural RoadmappSara Aitken is a candidate at New York University’s Masters Program in Irish and Irish-American Studies. She is also an associate producer and content research intern for Cultural Roadmapp, a transatlantic startup creating groundbreaking, hands-free audio tour apps for motorists. Deborah Schull is a Telly Award-winning writer and producer, as well as founder and president of Cultural Roadmapp.

What to Do When There’s Rain at the Beach: Lewes, Delaware

What to Do When There’s Rain at the Beach: Lewes, Delaware

Thanks to our guest author Karen Schwarz of Essaymom.net for sending us this story about her family’s trip to Lewes, Delaware.

Rain at the Beach: Lewes, Delaware

There’s no getting around it: rain at the beach puts parents on the spot. They have to manufacture fun and pass the soggy hours as if precipitation were the ideal weather for a seashore visit.

A recent rainy weekend in the seaside town of Lewes, Delaware, put us to the test. Lewes is a tiny town (pop 3,000), and is the northernmost beach community on the Delaware shore. Its neighbor, Rehoboth, has the traditional beach boardwalk with wash-off tattoo shops, french fry stands, and block after block of bikini dealers. Lewes, on the other hand, cleaves to its history, dating back to 1631.

There are lovely beaches to explore in Lewes, but if you’re there on a rainy day, they will hold little to no attraction for you or your kids. But if you know how to spin a yarn you can lead your kids across the centuries, and have a great time.

Pirates! Death! Destruction!

Head out Savannah road which dead ends at the beach. (And, oh yeah, there’s a Dairy Queen there). Picture 32 Dutch settlers coming ashore here in 1631 to hunt whales, only to be massacred by a local tribe a year later.

Next, tell your kids to imagine bloodthirsty pirates like Captain Kidd and Blueskin sailing past Lewes, terrifying the townspeople who had heard stories of their violent ways.

Turn back towards the pretty town and imagine it engulfed in flames. British soldiers burned it to the ground in 1664, just a year after the Dutch had come back and built a settlement.

 

Flowers! Safety! Security!

Now take a quick walk to Zwaanendael Park, where kids can roam free among gorgeous flowerbeds and visit the 18th Century cabin known as the Fisher-Martin House. On your way there, ask them to picture a single candle burning in the top floor windows of these old houses. That was the sign for runaway slaves that they would be safe and cared for there.

Get in the car for the six-minute drive to Herring Point in Henlopen State Park. Kids can explore Battery Herring, built in World War II to protect the coast from German subs that never arrived.

Herring Point Cape Henlopen State Park

Battery Herring, Cape Henlopen State Park

Quirky and Fun!

More cool stuff in Lewes: There’s a pirate’s treasure chest in the Maritime Museum, a creepy merman in the Zwaanendael Museum, and half a dozen enormous cannons (suitable for climbing) in Memorial Park that were used to defend the town from the British ships that pummeled the town with 800 projectiles for 22 hours during the War of 1812.

Zwaanendael Museum

Zwaanendael Museum

Ice Cream! Coffee! Puzzles!

Need a break? There’s King’s homemade ice cream, Nectar’s for lattes and smoothies and a really great puzzle shop on Front Street for some hard-earned quiet time out of the rain.

For more information and more great sites in Lewes, visit Historiclewes.org and Leweschamber.com.

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rain at the beach lewes delaware

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Thanks to our guest author Karen Schwarz of Essaymom.net for sending us this story about her family’s trip to Joshua Tree National Park.

We’re just back from a great spring break trip to Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California with our daughter, and wanted to spread the word about this fun and fascinating family destination that will not suck your wallet dry.

 

A family trip to Joshua Tree National Park article by Karen Schwarz

This is truly nature’s playground, where kids and parents can spend a relaxing couple of days clambering over enormous but do-able piles of boulders that dot the park’s beautiful 60 by 30 mile desert landscape. Each boulder formation has a unique and otherworldly look, depending on the volcanic action that created it millions of years ago. Our faves were Skull Rock and Hidden Valley, where nineteenth century cattle thieves grazed their stolen herds.

a view of Skull Valley at Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua trees grow nowhere else in the world and they dominate vast stretches of the park, equidistant from each other, as if a landscaper planted them on a miles-wide grid. It’s a bizarre sight. Take the 20-minute drive up to Keys View for a quick lesson on earthquakes. From this perch you’ll see a portion of the infamous 700-mile San Andreas Fault. Also visible is Signal Mountain, which is 95 miles away in Mexico!

Joshua Tree National Park is 45 minutes from the airport in Palms Springs, and 2 ½ easy hours or less from airports in Ontario and Burbank, California. As you traverse the desert, you’ll pass 4,000 windmills that churn out enough energy to power the entire Coachella Valley. Find out how that works on a tour with Palm Springs Windmill Tours or Best of the Best Tours.

Planning a trip to Joshua Tree National Park

For value and local feel, rent an AirBnB in the town of Joshua Tree. Locally owned restaurants are good, friendly and inexpensive. They get crowded, though, so try to be early for breakfast and dinner. For lunch, pack a picnic to enjoy in the park, as there’s no food available inside.

Inexpensive chain hotels and fast food joints are plentiful in Twentynine Palms. For the shortest wait entering the park, buy your car pass (just $20 for a week) at the Visitor Center the day before you plan to tour the park. Enter the park through the North Entrance in Twentynine Palms, which tends to be less crowded. Access to the popular sites is just as easy as from the more heavily travelled West Entrance in Joshua Tree.

the rocky landscape of Joshua Tree National Park

San Andres – 20 years later

San Andres – 20 years later

In the summer of 1995 I took what I consider my first real solo adventure and came to Guatemala to go to Spanish school in a little village called San Andres, on the Lago Peten Itza. We’ve spent over a week on this lake and hadn’t yet been to San Andres. The area has changed a bit – 20 years ago the only real way to get to San Andres was via little public lanchas, large motorboats that shuttled between the two sides of the lake. I fully expected to be able to hop on a lancha and visit my former host family and see the school where I first studied Spanish.

On one of our first days in Flores, we were shocked at the quoted price of 200Q ($24) for the ride across the lake. Apparently in the past 20 years there have been road improvements, making it possible for buses to get to San Andres, making the public lanchas obsolete. So it took us a week to finally agree to pay $24 for a 30-minute boat ride to see where I had spent 3 weeks.

The village itself has changed as well with improvements to the waterside: a nice public square and promenade area. After some confusion I managed to find the street where I had lived with Nidia Fion and her 3 children, Siomara, Romero, and Teresa. There was a group of women sitting on the corner and I asked them if they knew where we could find the family. They exchanged strange glances with each other that said something was off. I asked if she’d died and they said yes, 9 months ago, in a terrible incident. The group we had asked was Nidia’s family. I didn’t quite catch what Nidia’s sister was telling me about what happened but maybe her husband killed her. This wasn’t quite the reunion I was envisioning. The sister graciously let us walk around the outside of the house and I took pictures of the rooftops of where I had lived. The house had been improved since I was there, though I could still see the roofs of the little outhouse and my stand-alone room where I had slept. We didn’t go inside the compound so I couldn’t check out the interior.

R standing in front of the house where she lived with the sister of the matriarch. The matriarch recently passed away.

R standing in front of the house where she lived with the sister of the matriarch. The matriarch recently passed away.

View of the back of the house where R lived for 3 weeks in 1995. Her room, complete with fan and mossie net, was to the right.

View of the back of the house where R lived for 3 weeks in 1995. Her room, complete with fan and mossie net, was to the right.

We then walked to where I remembered the school being and found a burned out shell. I’d heard that it was burned but I just assumed it had been rebuilt. Not so – it was just walls, no roofs, and the beautiful airy classroom with the fantastic view over the lake was an empty space overgrown with weeds.

The scarred and crumbling remains of the school where R studied Spanish in San Andres, Guatemala.

The scarred and crumbling remains of the school where R studied Spanish in San Andres, Guatemala.

This used to be a classroom.

This used to be a classroom.

It was kind of a sad visit, not at all what I imagined, where I would sit down with Nidia and chat with her fluently, then head over to the school and make them proud that I was now speaking fluently, thanks to their teaching 20 years ago.

To top it all off, we’re quite certain that the pig who lived in the house next door to Nidia’s has also been eaten.