After our two months in Guanajuato it was time to move to another nest – this time to Santiago de Querétaro – the capital of the state of Querétaro. We had visited here briefly last winter (see Hanging out in Querétaro with Maria) and decided that it would be fun to spend more time getting to know this area and all it had to offer. For our first few days my sister and brother-in-law were with us and we spent the majority of our time walking into Centro (which is just eight easy blocks from our flat), shopping, eating, site seeing, and wine tasting.
Turns out Querétaro is the second most important wine growing area of Mexico and the primary wine exporter nationwide. It is also the largest producer of sheep’s milk cheeses. To sample these delights we took off on the Art, Cheese, and Wine Route – which happily includes the “Magical Towns” of Tequisquiapan, Bernal, and Cadereyta.
FYI: There are 121 Magical Towns in Mexico. Towns have to apply for the designation and show that they offer a combination of historical, cultural, and aesthetic qualities that make it wholly unique and worthy of a visit from tourists. The upside is that visitors are pretty much guaranteed a lovely experience; the downside is that lots of people head to these towns for vacations and getaways. Guanajuato has the Magical Town distinction and we can tell you we avoided the city center on weekends due to crowds.
We put Tequisquiapan into our map app and were on our way. Being a Sunday, we knew there would be lots of people, but we could not even find a place to park within walking distance of Centro. We did a bit of driving about to check out whether or not it was worth fighting for space and decided we could come back another day for town attractions, if we were so inclined. There are a number of lovely parks and an artists’ market which features pottery and wicker goods. We’ll see…
Our lovely casita rental includes a weekly cleaning service – which we much appreciate; and, though we really don’t get our nest too messy (as evidenced in the photo), it is nice to have things freshened. Our gals (they are always gals) arrive promptly at 10am, and we leave the house until they are finished – which means being gone until at least 4pm. It is not as if they are slow (though they do keep a pretty moderate pace), but they are extremely thorough. All sheets and towels get changed; floors get mopped; bathrooms get sanitized; shelves and objects on them get dusted; patio furniture is wiped down and even the outdoor areas get wet-broomed. Like I said – thorough.
This also presents us with the challenge of finding something that will keep us occupied for a day away from home. For now we are taking turns coming up with a plan. Last week it was my turn and I proposed driving to Leon to check out a couple of fabric stores and then coming back to Guanajuato to see a movie ( Mary Poppins Returns is showing in English at our local Cinamex!)
Well, it’s official…we have had our first all-of-the-family holiday stomach flu marathon. It started with our sweet grandson (who we though was just having the normal little guy tummy changes), then on to my daughter-in-law and myself (and we tried blaming it on the frappes), then one son, then the other, and finally my Bob. It was the classic domino transmission, and it made me recall similar circumstances and previous holidays with my family or origin. But in those days it was a family of 11 (2 parents and 9 kiddos) in a one bathroom home. Fortunately, our Guanajuato casitas gave us more options. I am guessing everyone who reads this has a similar holiday/illness memory. True – not a fun recall, but often a funny one.
We have landed in our winter headquarters, and since this is a new location for us (still Guanajuato – but in Valenciana, not Guanajuato City) I thought an afternoon on foot would be a good way to begin.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this latest blog post figures to come in at over 50,000. So many interesting things to see that I am going to let the places we visited pretty much speak for themselves. But before all of that, a few comments on our latest rental – which I do not have pictures of. (It was lovely, just not something that cried to be photographed.) We stayed in Châteaurenard, basically a farming community less than 15 minutes from Avignon. It turned out to be the perfect lily pad, allowing us to leap frog from place to place for day trips and adventures. Our VRBO hosts were most gracious; they spoke very little English but wanted to communicate with us so they kept their iPad handy and wrote us messages which were electronically translated. It was so heart warming to see them coming up the steps to our flat with another bit of helpful information. They also treated us to a very nice bottle of locally produced red wine. In terms of lodging, the rental unit was our least expensive yet most spacious: eat-in kitchen with a complete set of appliances, great room with a dining area for 6 people (including a sideboard filled with china), two nice sized bedrooms, a big bathroom, a shaded patio, and even a laundry room. We were minutes from the town center, though the setting felt rural. To add to our pleasure there was an extroverted cat who liked to push the door open to visit us indoors, a hard-of hearing/not very well seeing dog that had to almost bump into us before he knew we were there (he made up for it by making regular rounds of the patio just to check on our whereabouts) and a bunch of chickens that felt no need to move out of the way when we were driving into the parking area. Like I said – rural.
Just lodged for 10 days in a converted sheep barn in Vence, France. Had the joy of some fabulous and disappointment of some not so fabulous meals. We were busy enough, but not so much that we succumbed to full vacation mode, as we balanced outings with restful days and evenings. And then there were the mosquitoes…
“Alex, I’ll take transportation for €44,40”. The question: Why would someone take the Mont Blanc tunnel?
This 11.611 km (7.215 mi) passage links Chamonix, France to Courmayeur, Italy and Italy is where we were headed. Between us stood a section of the Alps. While the scenery was breathtaking, we were pleased that we were able to go through the mountain rather than over it.
The entire travel time that day was eight hours. Much of it on toll roads. Convenient, safe, and a bit pricey. I figure we spent about $150 (US) for the privilege. On nearing Venice we began looking for the Tronchetto Parking Garage recommended by our VRBO hosts. Since cars are not allowed to drive onto the island, we were glad to have input on the best way to navigate this. Safely parked, we made our way to the docks to catch a vaporetto (water bus). Our host was meeting us at one of the stops for a 10-minute walk to our rental. On the way we took 3 turns and crossed 5 bridges and congratulated ourselves on downsizing our luggage for this portion of the journey.
And the vagabond year continues… but before going into details for this portion of the trip it might be helpful if I gave a bit of information on the process we used to make our travel decisions. (Process being a euphemism for seat of our pants). First we considered our kiddos: grandson, his parents (our younger son and his lovely wife) and our older son. It was important to get them in our circuit. Next we put together a “love to” list of places: cities we wanted to experience and those that we have talked about seeing again. That done, we accepted that our ‘love to” list could not even come close to being reasonably doable, so we chopped it up into geographical sections; stringing together as many things on our list as we could. Then we did something really daring – we asked friends for suggestions (relating to our now roughly determined path), and invited them to add what they thought we should strongly consider. Thanks to all who shared so eloquently. (Patty & Jack, Judi, Chad, Emily & Aaron, Lynne, Bradley, Terry & John, Patty B., Kerry, Christine …sorry if I have missed someone; please know that all advice has paid off.) As the suggestions and comments rolled in it was enlightening to hear the strong and diverse feelings people had: Paris – my favorite/been there done that; Venice – magical/what’s the big deal?; London – I can’t wait to go back/nothing exceptional and then there’s the horrible food.
That said, we put France on our list for a number of reasons: I had been, but Bob had not. I have longed to get back to the southern portion of the country and it was, after all, France. Our British Isles cruise put us in somewhat close proximity. And, while the south was my goal, it seemed right to do the stuff that Paris offers – it was convenient and there.
Paris. Our flat was ideally situated: two blocks from a Metro stop, near 3 grocery stores, amidst the usual abundance of cafes and patisseries. We fell into our routine of breakfast in the flat, grabbing something along our outing mid-day and then opting for a quiet evening in house or at something in the neighborhood. Best find was a Cambodian restaurant a few blocks from our flat. Still have no idea what I ordered, but it was delicious.
The day following our visits to The Louvre and Pompidou Centre started out rainy. We postponed our activity until skies cleared after lunch and then headed for the Tuileries and l‘Orangerie. On our way, Bob had his pocket picked while riding the Metro and that influenced our overall mood. Bob was, as can be imagined, frustrated but circumspect. I took no photos, staying more quiet and contained. We did enjoy the Monets and even took a side trip to the National Gallery of Jeu de Paume (ironically, a photographic exhibit space). The current showings were related to the protests of the tortures during the French/Algerian War. In a serendipity, this was the day French President Macron issued an apology for the government’s handling of the Algerian situation. In this case art clearly preceded life.
And so it goes for Paris (refer to earlier comment about buying the book). We are now changing up our transportation mode to Bob’s choice for moving about: him behind the wheel. From our Paris flat we Ubered to the airport and waited in line for almost 2 hours to get our rental car. Heads up: if you are in Charles De Gaulle and looking for lunch/snack/take on the road options, Marks & Spencer beats everything else pricewise and in regards to lines.
And then it is on to Dijon. We had a lovely flat, just blocks from the city center. There was a small grocery near and we were only a 5 minute walk from the heart of the old city.
And whilst in Dijon, a side trip to Beaune and the home to Vueve Ambal. I will admit, I had no idea of what we were getting into when we decided on this day trip. Bob originally found it online and figured I would be on board because it was about wine with bubbles. He was right. We both had a wonderful time: learning about crémant vs champagne. As most know, champagne must be made in the Champagne region of France and using the “champagne method” to be OFFICIALLY champagne. (It’s the appellation distinction thing that I wrote about in my tequila/mescal post when we were in Guanajuato.) Other wineries in regions outside of Champagne can produce sparkling wines (and even use the same or similar methods) but they cannot be called champagne. Thus Crémant de Bourgogne.
Our time in Dijon was over too quickly. We have already begun a new list: places we want to spend more time in during future travels. After all, we still didn’t make it to the gingerbread factory and there are still so many wines waiting to be tasted.
Cheers and good health to all! We have completed our British Isles cruise and I thought a Cornish toast would be a good way to head this latest post. What follows is by no means a comprehensive travelogue of our trip, but it does capture some of the sights and insights along the way.
And on to Paris we go. Looking forward to a bit more sunshine, fewer lines to navigate and as many baguettes and pastries as I can hold.