Dublin, Ireland

From books and art to beer and revelry: DUBLIN

Doorman and William Scott painting at Merrion Hotel; Exhibit at The Little Museum of Dublin. Photos by Barb Sligl

Dublin’s streets seem to echo the words of poets, playwrights, novelists…James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett. Their statues also seem to greet you everywhere, from a louche-looking Wilde lounging upon a rock in Merrion Square (in a natty pink-and-green smoking jacket) to a bespectacled Joyce musing in the courtyard of the Merrion Hotel.

The conversations continue with these colourful figures of literature in the Dublin Writers Museum (writersmuseum.com), where their verse and letters are showcased within an original 18th-century house. On the other side of the Liffey River, across the slender arch and ironwork of the pedestrian Ha’penny Bridge (named so because that’s what it used to cost to cross it when it opened in 1816), and in another graceful Georgian building, is the whimsical Little Museum of Dublin(littlemuseum.ie). The lively guided tour is a celebration of the city’s charming, somewhat ribald character and history, from its official founding in 988 AD to the days of U2 (with a pack of U2 condoms on exhibit) and the first woman elected as President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, who famously said: “I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.”

Stepping into one of Dublin’s most infamous bars; Street scene, Temple Bar neighbourhood. Photos by Barb Sligl

More of Dublin’s bewitching personality is on display in the Temple Bar neighbourhood (a reference to the old word for a raised sandbank, “barr,” as well as the man who settled here in 1599, Sir William Temple). Today, the network of cobblestone streets and lanes is full of pubs, including the eponymous Temple Bar (site of Sir Temple’s home; thetemplebarpub.com), where ordering a pint will, of course, get you the local standby of Guinness.

Back across the Liffey, the Guinness Storehouse (guinness-storehouse.com), part of the active St. James’s Gate brewery that’s been churning out the dark, delicious brew since 1759, is a destination itself—part history museum, part beer wonderland and even part school where you learn that optimal flavour, aroma and colour is achieved at 232°C (“roasted to a black state of perfection,” as the guide says), or, more importantly, how to pull a perfect pint (“the Guinness surge”). And, yes, “Guinness is good for you,” as the renowned slogan goes.

A Guinness, of course. Trinity College’s Old Library. Photo by Barb Sligl.

Beer, bars, bards. And books. At Trinity College (tcd.ie/visitors/book-of-kells), see the legendary Book  of Kells (the oldest book in the world, it was scribed in 800 AD and has existed longer than Dublin) and then visit the early-18th-century Long Room in the Old Library, a glorious, two-storey, wall-to-wall display of some 200,000 tomes. Find a spot amidst the constant crowds to be still and behold the collection. Afterwards, explore more back-in-time beauty: St. Patrick’s Cathedral (where Swift is buried) and the National Gallery of Ireland (where you can see canvases by Yeats, an accomplished painter as well as poet).

Doorway to choir school at St. Patrick’s Cathedral; School girls in the National Gallery of Ireland. Photo by Barb Sligl.

After gazing at a still life of Scottish-Irish painter William Scott in the National Gallery (nationalgallery. ie), cross the street to find another one in the lobby of the Merrion Hotel (merrionhotel.com). With a private collection of 19th- and 20th-century art that’s set amidst the grand interiors of a restored Georgian building (with that Joyce statue in the courtyard), it’s as if you’re ensconced in Dublin’s artistic heart. — Barb Sligl

[GO] For more on Dublin: visitdublin.com.

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LOS CABOS

There’s plenty to love on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, in LOS CABOS

“Niño de mis ojos.” It’s what Frida Kahlo called Diego Rivera: “boy of my eyes.” I learn the phrase at a restaurant that’s named for and inspired by the colourful and iconoclastic Mexican artist. The backdrop is similarly wild, beautiful and full of ardour. Waves crash. The sun blazes. Palm fronds sway. Ah, Baja.

Frida is just one of seven evocative restaurants at the all-inclusive Grand Velas Los Cabos, which sits in the middle of the corridor between San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, the two towns of Los Cabos—or “the capes”—at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula.

Go west, some 20 km, and Cabo San Lucas offers bars and revelry (hello, Cabo Wabo, rocker Sammy Hagar’s legendary joint) as well as the iconic El Arco (“the arch”) and aptly named stony appendage of Land’s End. A panga or water taxi will drop you off at Playa del Amor (Lover’s Beach). But beyond this, past the serrated rocks and barking sea lions, it’s just thousands of kilometres of Pacific Ocean. Or, 15 km on the other side of the resort, are the colonial buildings and historic missionary church of San José del Cabo.

But at the Grand Velas Los Cabos, between the two, is a bit of a hideaway on a swathe of wild beach (no swimming here; stick to the three tiers of infinity pools or go to nearby Chileno Beach). I spend an afternoon settled on a day bed in the sand, set amidst craggy rocks that look like they could have crumbled from El Arco itself, and just listen. It almost feels as if I’m lounging at Land’s End. Except that I have a mezcalita in my hand (that’s a margarita made with mezcal, also known as a mezcalgarita and on-trend).

Other Mexican concoctions I sample: chelada (cerveza with lime juice), michelada (add Worcestershire or Maggi plus chili spice) and ojo rojo (add tomato or clamato for the “red eye,” which also happens to be a hangover cure). I could sip and sit on the sand, by the pool or in it all day, but there’s much more to do here: a spa with a workshop (make your own mask with natural ingredients) and guided tequila and mezcal tastings, from joven to anejo. Yes, back to the sipping. I discern notes of citrus, spice, grass…and learn another Mexican saying. “First one without water, second one with water, third one like water.” Indeed.

Next stop: the spa, where there’s a hydrotherapy ritual (and a thermal lounge chair with my name on it) and treatments with blue agave. After which the feast begins anew. After Frida, it’s hard to choose. I’d be happily sated eating bowl after bowl of ceviche poolside at Cabrillo, but just steps away, at Cocina de Autor, there’s a multi-course menu by two-star Michelin chef Sidney Schutte. Buen provecho.  — Barb Sligl

[STAY] Grand Velas Los Cabos  loscabos.grandvelas.com

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

Iconic BUENOS AIRES is bueno indeed

On the menu in the colourful ’hood of La Boca. Photo by Janet Gyenes

Every city has its icons. Places, people and landmarks that reveal its history and culture. The heartbeat of Buenos Aires’ porteños (“people of the port” as locals are called) thumps in its tango halls, parrillas and fútbol clubs—a trifecta of romance, indulgence and rivalry. With 48 neighbourhoods or barrios, this metropolis of three million people is alive and electrifying. But I also want to peer into its past.

So I head to the upscale Recoleta barrio and visit the historic Cementerio de la Recoleta. This somnolent city of the dead is home to Argentina’s military heroes and politicians, including Eva “Evita” Perón. It’s surprisingly serene strolling the lanes crowded with 6,000 statues, sarcophagi and crypts. Palms offer shade from the fierce sun. Flowers find footholds in the stone. Cats play hide-and-seek under the wings of angels.

Cementerio de la Recoleta, where famous Argentinians like Eva Perón are buried. Photo by Janet Gyenes

The sheer scale of some of the city’s sights, however, almost overwhelm. Like the 71.5-metre Obelisco de Buenos Aires erected in 1936. I get a peek of its point on a blistering bus ride down 16-lane Avenida 9 de Julio (the widest on the planet) whose name honours Argentina’s Independence Day in 1816. At Parque Thays I watch people smirk and smile at Fernando Botero’s Naked Male Torso, a bronze behemoth. But I’m more mesmerized by the work of Argentinian architect Eduardo Catalano in nearby Plaza de las Naciones Unidas. Floralis Genérica is a 23-metre, 18-ton aluminum and stainless-steel flower. Its six outsize petals open daily at 8am, representing “hope reborn” according to Catalano. They close at sunset like a gargantuan Venus flytrap swallowing the sky.

Left to Right: Botero’s Naked Male Torso; The 18-ton Floralis Genérica opens and closes daily. Photo by Janet Gyenes

During a graffiti tour of the working-class barrios La Boca and Barracas I see a woman’s kerchief stencilled on a wall. It’s not just a cute piece of artwork, explains Sorcha O’Higgins from Graffitimundo. The words above it—La Boca no olvida a sus desaparecidos—pack a punch: The Boca does not forget its disappeared. We pass a jumble of corrugated-metal buildings painted in primary colours, pausing at a mural of fists, faces, names, dates and the words Ni olvido ni perdon. Do not forget or forgive. It’s another reference to Argentina’s Dirty War. From 1976–1983 as many as 30,000 people suspected of opposing the military regime were executed or thrown off planes in “death flights” over the Rio Plata. In 1977, 14 mothers of these “disappeared,” wearing kerchiefs with their children’s names embroidered on the back, silently marched in front of the presidential palace on the Plaza de Mayo. That promise has endured. Families of the missing still march there every Thursday at 3:30pm.

Mural in La Boca barrio memorializing Argentina’s “disappeared”. Photo by Janet Gyenes

Kerchiefs and fists aren’t the only symbols on the streets. In recent years “graphic design [collectives] Dome and Fase decided to create happy characters… as a positive visual antidote,” says O’Higgins. Many murals, products of a recent city-funded graffiti fest, are lively and self-referential. Like a multi-storey man painted by an artist who works in a parilla, says O’Higgins. His shirt is unbuttoned to his naval. Gold medallions are splayed across his chest. And his massive hands are curled, not into fists, but around a knife and fork. They’re slicing another symbolic staple: chorizo sausage. It’s a welcome jolt of optimism in this super-charged South American city.  — Janet Gyenes

[MORE] Check out turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar/en

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