Going through photos and recalling our Mexico adventure via the rear view mirror helped me realize that I had a mixed assortment of images that never made it into a blog post but were still ones that I would like to share. First off, a curiosity of museums: (BTW – there is no collective noun for a group of museums, but I figured “curiosity” would work).
And while on the topic of museums, we did go Diego Rivera’s home. No photos allowed but that was okay as there were not many things that caught our attention. And why so little about Frieda? It was a good stop – but not great, frankly. On the other hand…
New topic. For those of you who remembered that I said I would post a few photos of our house and were wondering when I would get around to it…here goes:
Off on another road trip – this time to Querétaro, about a 2 hour drive from Guanajuato. (FYI: Querérato, like Guanajuato is both a state and a city within that state. This sometimes causes confusion as both the city and state are typically referred to by a single name. If you live here it doesn’t seem to be a problem; people pretty quickly figure which of the two you are talking about. It is the non-locals who have to scratch their heads a bit before getting the distinction.) Querétaro is pretty much the ying to Guanajuato’s yang as it’s modern feel and robust economy (largely based on IT/data centers and aerospace manufacturing and research) provides a young and progressive vibe. But that doesn’t mean it is without a wealth of historical, cultural and artistic opportunities to enjoy. In fact, we found so much to see and do that we extended our stay by one night and still feel like we have barely dipped our toes into the Querétaro waters.
We like to do our initial investigations on foot. Just blocks away from our hotel was Plaza de Armas with its wide variety of dining options. We decided to grab a quick lunch, staying with cuisine typico; Bob had chili relleno and I ordered enchiladas Querétaroan. Next we headed down the way to go to the artisan’s market/shop but found they were closed from 2-4p. Siesta time? So instead we strolled the Portal de Dolores, where we chanced upon Maria, the best known muñecas de trapo (rag doll) in Mexico. The story behind this doll is quite interesting and if you want more you can check out this link: Maria Doll.
But before we get to the pup, I guess it would be best to go back to the start of our great circle route: San Miguel de Allende to Dolores Hidalgo to Santa Rosa. This was going to be our first visit to San Miguel, though we know many folks who regularly visit here and rave about the town. It has quite a large expat population and there is deep history and gorgeous art. Bob and I were both wondering if we would be so taken with the town that we would feel differently about our beloved Guanajuato. We even had prepared a list of places to check out as potential winter lodgings in the coming year.
Back in the car: we drove about town to check out those VRBO sites we had identified. Lots of stone-paved roads, narrow streets, construction (both of homes and of infrastructure), and market areas. Overall, we found it interesting enough, but nothing seemed to draw us like Guanajuato does. I am sure there are things we may have missed or overlooked. I would love to hear from my friends who come to San Miguel and truly enjoy it. Our minds are still open on this…
Oh – the good news is we found information about the procession. We went to a happy hour (mojitos and margaritas down the street from our hotel) and asked our server what the occasion might have been. Between his understanding of my spoken Spanish and my interpretation of his spoken English we determined that we were seeing a sanctification of the saints by Saint Mary. Again – if someone else has anything to add to this – comment away, please.
Saturday in Guanajuato means tourists – lots of them; most from other parts of Mexico coming here to enjoy the historical and cultural offerings of this World Heritage site. And the number of visitors promises lots going on: more street performers, more music, more food stands, more sellers of souvenirs, more opportunities to people-watch. So a plan was hatched: I was off to city center to enjoy the activities and squeeze in a couple of errands. Bob would remain at the house to scout out a place for dinner. We arranged for a meet-up spot for when I was finished and we would try out the restaurant that sounded the most promising.
What follows is mostly pictures. If you are the type that cringes when someone suggests you come over to see their travel photos, you may want to exit now as the first part of this post is pretty much that. Or, if you are someone that rolls their eyes when you realize that you are going to be clicking through food photos, you may want to skip the end portion of this post. Consider yourselves warned…
Paracho: Guitar Capital of Mexico for over 100 hundred years. The home to most of the world’s guitar factories – though this is changing as mass manufacturing has moved to other countries where it can be done cheaper. (Have we heard this story before???) The city is now remaking itself and rather than being the maker of many guitars it is the home of some of the world’s best hand crafted guitars. And so we journey out to find a guitar for Bob. He had purchased a guitar in Paracho just over 30 years ago and loved it. Unfortunately, he loaned it to a friend and it was never seen again. Ever since then he has been hankering to get back and buy another.
Interesting backstory: David Caro is quite a famous and highly-regarded guitar maker. He is no longer making guitars but at one time he made 40 per year and they sold for $600 if purchased in Mexico and $900 if they were sent to the states. The guitar Bob purchased was made by his son, Salomón, who has assumed the family trade.
Other sites that caught our eye while we were in Paracho:
And we are finally on our way back to Guanajuato. It is about a 4 hour drive, and we took different routes down and back so we had lots of time to take in the various cities and expanses of countryside. We drove through Morelia, the capital of Michoacán, on the way down. Morelia is a large city and currently experiencing rapid growth which puts it at odds with its historical roots and there has been controversy about how native forests are being overtaken. We were especially interested in seeing the beautiful Spanish buildings, most made of pink granite, which the area is known for. I believe my favorite building was the Palace of Justice; isn’t that a nice name for courthouse?
León: the largest city in the state of Guanajuato with about 1.5 million people; very industrial; known for leather goods. Also the location of a very good Mac Store which helped me solve my USB port issue so I could use my photo card to get pictures uploaded for the blog – Whew!!!
There are no flat lands in Guanajuato and it has been interesting hiking up and down throughout the neighborhood. We try to get feet on the streets at least once a day and that has meant lots of stair climbing. The rental home’s owner claims we walk up five flights to our entry but it certainly felt like more, so we did a bit of math. The winding road up to the house is pretty much 50:50 steps and ramps. We counted 75 steps. At a rise of 8 inches each (on average) that comes to 600 inches in all, which equals 50 feet. Figuring 12 feet per story that means the steps alone make up 4 stories; add in the ramps and we are probably closer to 8 stories. No wonder we have been feeling exhausted when we get to the top!
And while we are on the subject of math, remember the adage, measure twice; cut once? Seems not to be a guideline for the person who was responsible for the preparing the footers on one of the houses across the way from us.
There is a lot of building going on in our neighborhood right now. We enjoy sitting on our deck watching the crews and marveling at how they get things done.
We imagine what it would have been like to build the home we are staying in. We have admired the construction and craftsmanship and can only wonder at the manpower involved. Interestingly, we have also noted that many of our outdoor walls are still being built as they were way back when Mayans contracted their buildings.
Warm greetings from central and mountainous Mexico. We have been here about 24 hours and are pretty settled into the rental property. It is an architectural delight; totally worth the 5 flights of outdoor stairs and walkways it takes just to get to the front door. Once inside there are three uniquely configured floors (bedrooms on first level, kitchen and living area on second level, outdoor patio/balcony on third level.) Needless to say, we have had to admit to our lack of cardio fitness and are hoping that daily trips into town will soon make it possible for us to go from the street to our kitchen without losing our breath. FYI: For you design types I will be posting some of the features of the house as the blog unfolds.
Today was about practical things: finding a grocery store so we could get staples and a trip to an ATM so we could finally operate using pesos. Our host took us on a car tour so we could get a feel for the layout of our area of the city. She is very familiar with the tunnel system (cars go under, not though the center of the city) so that was a great help, even though we will mostly travel on foot. She also pointed out some good restaurants, parks, and entertainments. Tomorrow we plan to go to Mercado Hidalgo for more local foods and flavors. After that… who knows!?!
Well, we have been back in the states for about 2 weeks. I have almost got my body clock back on PST after those midsummer nights and long plane flights. And I also recently finished a photo book about our travels. I have added a link to the book for anyone who is interested.
Paso Robles, Round 1: Weather pleasantly mild, accommodations comfortable, diversions aplenty. We started our adventure with a craft beer session at Firestone-Walker Brewery. It was Christmas Eve day and the staff was in a party mood. The pours were generous and when it came time to settle our tab it was clear that the server had either lost count or was literally going with the flow. A gift! From there it was on to Sculpterra, a winery we had not visited before. It is a just a short drive west of town and the setting is spectacular due to the array of art installations. Take a gander at some of my favorites:
But what about the wine? I am happy to report that it was excellent; so good, in fact, that we joined one of their wine clubs. The line of wines – Viognier, Pinot Noir, Primitivo, and Cabernet Sauvignon – is named “Heroe” (Spanish for hero) and is dedicated to the production workers. The labels on the bottles feature pictures of some of the workers themselves, and a portion of the profits are used to fund health clinics in areas of Mexico where many of the workers come from. Win-win-win.
Following our tasting at Sculpterra we were REALLY in need of lunch so we headed up the road to Cass Winery – a destination based on a local recommendation – to try their renowned food. While there I noticed a pole covered with birdhouses. On closer inspection, it turned out the “houses” were actually old shoes. How clever.
One more winery – Tobin James – finished off our day. The wine there was good but not good enough to entice us to do another wine club thing. We did enjoy being served at the 1860’s Brunswick mahogany bar brought in from Missouri to help give the place a “James Gang” feel.
Pismo Beach: Timing was right for a stop at the Monarch Grove (migration is November – February). When we got there it was still a bit cool so our first sightings were of large clusters of butterflies hanging with wings tightly closed. As the sun warmed the area there was a gradual unfolding and lots of soaring. Park rangers had to place warnings on the ground requesting people to be careful where they stepped as many of the monarchs were making rest stops along the paths. It was quite a beautiful sight.
Solvang/Santa Ynez Valley: On a previous excursion to SoCal we intended to visit Solvang, noted for being the Danish capital of the United States. It didn’t happen then, so made a point of taking a day trip to check it out. Whoa – who would have thought the place would be so popular? It was Disneyland-on-a-school-holiday busy. But we did manage a Danish lunch, a short bit of walking, and a visit to a “I want one of everything on the shelves” bakery. Using uncharacteristic self-control I purchased only one small pastry to enjoy while we were traveling and a breakfast treat for the following morning. Both were as delicious as they looked. This doesn’t always happen (think Mexican sweet rolls~).
Leaving Solvang we made our way back north through the valley to stop at a variety of vineyards. We made 5-6 stops. (Funny how that number blurs after a while…) Tasted a number of Pinots but none were intriguing enough for us to purchase. One of the best parts of the day was enjoying the beautiful views.
Paso Robles, Part 2: Since we went east on our first round of tastings we headed west for the second round. We revisited a favorite: Villacana Winery and Re-Fined, their distillery operation. Still (pardon the pun) as good as we remembered. Next up was Halter Ranch, with its historic buildings, and then Whalebone Vineyards, where we HAD to buy a bottle of their “flagship” wine, Bob; we also spotted the vineyard cat nestled in the souvenir sweatshirt display.
Our route then took us to Pasolivo, an olive oil company, where we had tastings of both regular and flavored oils along with seasonings and salts. Wonderful – so wonderful that a tin of basil oil and a container of Dukkah made their way into our shopping basket. Following that stop was Limerock Orchards to taste walnuts and oils. Once again, our palates were smitten and we made purchases of walnut oil and a bottle of Asian-spiced vinegar (a bit hot, and just a tad sweet). Time for lunch, so we settled on Opolo vineyards.
The afternoon was complete with a stop at Turley, another favorite, where Bob treated himself to a couple of bottles of their old vine Zinfandel while I went for the salt cellar made from olive wood; then on to Rotta, the oldest vineyard in the area, established in 1908.
San Rafael:No wineries at this location, but that didn’t stop us from finding something great to drink. We used the Internet to guide us to a Happy Hour location and got lucky. If you are ever in that area on a Wednesday, head for Brick and Barrel. Happy Hour not only has delicious, reasonably priced, and generously-sized appetizers; but all bottled wine is half price. We were with our friend, Denise, who is a former science teacher; so our choice of wine was spot-on: Consilience (in science, refers to the principle that evidence from unrelated sources can converge to strong conclusions). As evidenced by our empty bottle at the end of the evening, we concluded it was a very good wine.
St. Helena: Joined forever friends, Mark and Trudy, for an afternoon of wine tasting and New Year’s Eve dinner. We met at Hall/Napa, which they had not been to, just so they could see the beautiful grounds. (I wrote about Hall in a post last year…) Then it was into town to taste at Clif, not a vineyard but a tasting room for wines they make elsewhere. Remarkably good. Yup, you guessed it – another wine club.
Next it was up the road to Markham and finally Mumm/Napa. Mumm is our favorite tasting room of all time. It doesn’t hurt that my drink of choice is champagne. The whole place was in a festive mood with party favors being shared (hats and horns) and extra pours with the tastings. It was a perfect way to conclude our journey and the final day of 2015.