Just the Bare Bones of Our Weekend

This weekend is going to be a calm and quiet one, no 11 trains, no traveling halfway across the country to go the ballet, not even a quick trip to Florence to see more of the sights. Wednesday as we were discussing our weekend plans, Sue stumbled onto a place called Jerry Thomas, that describes itself as speakeasy and was right near a restaurant we were planning to try. It is named after, surprisingly, Jerry Thomas who is described as the father of the American cocktail. To get in you needed to answer a question about him, which was actually about New York’s old Sunday blue laws. We answered the question, which yielded an email that gave us the secret password to get in. On the site is a link to a phone number and instructions on the times that you can call and make a reservation. This just seemed too fun to pass up, so at the appointed hour, Sue called and found that the earliest reservation we could get would be midnight and also that it is a private members only club, so we would have to purchase a membership for the grand sum of €5 each. Now at this point reasonable people our age would have said either: no and given up on the adventure or perhaps, asked if could we get a reservation for another day at an earlier time. But no way we were going to do either of those (we’re not reasonable). So midnight it was.

We re-arranged our plans and had dinner near our place then settled in for an hour or so before heading out to look for a taxi. There is a taxi stand just around the corner, but, it was empty. On reflection, I guess not surprising, since it was 11:45 and our place is somewhat in the suburbs. However, after about 5 minutes of trying to figure out how to order a cab, one drove by and we hopped in it. The speakeasy is clearly marked on the map, but of course, the “road” it was on was merely an alley. A group of people milling about midway down the alley so we quickly figured out that this was where we needed to be. Plus, the cabdriver pointed. After a brief moment, a man opened the door of what looked like a brownstone or row house and started to call names. He called Sue’s name and we were allowed in. Humorously one woman tried to bluff her way in by claiming to be in another party. The look of derision that he gave her was withering and she slunk back away from the door. The doorman seemed a bit dour, but I guess I would, too, if my job were to make everyone wear a mask, check their green passes, shout names into the unruly crowd and keep everyone quiet in a residential area as they were clambering to get into my workplace. The bar was decked out in early Prohibition. The cocktail menu appeared first, followed by our drinks, which were delicious. We would like to especially thank our server, Luca, who kindly spoke English and brought some focaccia for us. At 1:30 a.m. sharp our reservation expired and we headed home. We had a similar taxi adventure on the way home, but the wait was only a few minutes.

Saturday morning, our niece Genny arrived for a two-week stay.  She got in about 10 a.m. and after a brief stint trying to sleep, we ate lunch and headed to one of weirdest places that we have been to so far. The Capuchin Crypts are a series of chapels under the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. The chapels are built with the bones of Capuchin friars. There is a small museum that really just seems to be there to lead the way to the crypts. Apparently when the friars moved to this church they brought the bones of their dead brothers with them. At some point, according to the information in the museum, it was either a Capuchin friar who had fled from France and was hiding in the ossuary or a local artisan who ask permission to create the chapels.

There is simply no way to describe how weird it is; photography is banned so these pictures are from the web, but they do not really do justice the how bizarre the whole thing is. The Paris catacombs, which we visited way back in August, were odd, and the bones were arranged with some artistic flare. But this place was a whole different level of weirdness. There were friars in repose underneath arches of bones. The chandeliers where made of bones, the ceilings were decorated in bones. A couple looked like they had mummified faces. Very creepy. Suffice to say we loved it.

After finishing there, we decided to walk to the Vatican to see where Genny had lived during her time here as a nun…OK, she wasn’t here as a nun, she did a semester abroad in Rome and had an apartment just near the Vatican. After walking past her old apartment, we grabbed the Metro back to our stop and settled in for the evening.

Join a Gym …

Well, it doesn’t have to be a gym, but get yourself into the world of people who really live where you’re hanging out. In Guadalajara, we did yoga and learned some Spanish along the way. We also learned that Mexicans are helpful and friendly.

Monday, we signed up at a gym, Rabbit Sport Center, (and, no, I didn’t translate that) in our neighborhood in Rome. How bad did we feel when the front-desk person repeatedly apologized to us because his English isn’t good?!?! We intended to go in Tuesday but … we may have slept until 10:15. Oops. Delayed jetlag or just old people doing too much in one week? Whatever. On Wednesday, we met our new trainer, Antonio, who speaks English or at least enough English. (at least enough to torture us!)

We got two really important things out of our first day:

  • We can count to 12 in Italian!
  • We now know how out of shape we really are.

We are sore, but we did go back today. We have to make up for living around the corner from Pasticceria Tiramisù plus Italian bread, pasta, and cheese.

We are starting to feel like we live here after a wonderful week with David and Stacey. The downside to that is we aren’t playing tourist except for weekends. Life is tough.

Friday Death March

Friday, we decided to head to Trastevere, a neighborhood not far from us, but difficult to get to by train. It was death march time! The southernmost hill of Rome is nearby and offers views of the entire city. We did our usual and marched up and were not disappointed (But we – or at least I – was in pain). There’s also the Finnish embassy and a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, hero of Italian unification, plus a gravel walkway with the busts of soldiers who fought with Garibaldi. Sad to say, in a battle between those known warriors of the world, the French and Italians, the French won the day and Garibaldi and his soldiers’ efforts to protect Rome were in vain.

Garibaldi

We then headed down into the neighborhood of Trastavere, and after a detour to see an overturned Mercedes (roof still intact), we made it. We are jaded, I have to say. Trendy neighborhoods are full of restaurants and tourist shops. That’s fine, but not that exciting to us, there’s a sameness to all of them. Instead, we crossed the Tiber and did what we do best: wandered aimlessly and discovered the beauty of Rome. Everywhere we turned there was an amazing sculpture or an ancient column in a tiny piazza. Now I get why people love Rome! We walked about 7 miles and took in the winding cobblestones and incredible architecture. We sat and had a cafe in a piazza where children were running around after school and just enjoyed people watching. Then, we headed back to our neck of the woods where we had wine at a local wine shop and bar, Vineria Beva Boccea. The waiter was very kind with our lack of Italian and recommended some delicious reds. Finally, we ended the day with Japanese food at Umi Sushi. I know, but we will still eat plenty of pasta.

We have noticed that while Mexicans go for straight 1980s American hair band music, the Italians seem to like their American music with a twist — a very slow twist. They turn it into elevator music with that slow jazz background. Everything from Toto to Madonna to Michael Jackson slowed to half speed with a drum machine. It’s pretty amusing.

Funny aside: Someone in Florence accidentally Airdropped me a bunch of photos. They are all portraits of one man. People: Be careful who you Airdrop. I won’t publish the pics, but someone else might have.

Back in the USA

Friday morning at 11:30 we left our AirBnB in Guadalajara for the 30-minute ride to the airport.  It is the end of another leg of our foolishness. We are usually pretty careful about the weight of our luggage, but the prices got the better of us and bought a couple of bottles of tequila and one very heavy present. Both our bags came in at just a shade over the 23-kilo maximum, but we figured we would risk it. At the airport the scales started at 23.5kg and slowly balanced themselves to exactly 23kg. Whew.

Somewhere over Mexico

Our destination today is Fort Lauderdale, with a. stopover in Houston. The flight to Houston (IAH) was smooth and easy. The flight left and landed on time. The arrival in Houston started smoothly. We used our global entry for the first time. The scanner took really bad photos of us and printed them on what looked like old style fax paper. We grabbed our entry slips and walked right through immigration. It took a while for our bags to appear, which I guess is the drawback to not standing in line at immigration, but one we will gladly take. Once the bags arrived, we walked them over to the transfer station, dropped them off and headed to the new gate.

We didn’t realize that we had to go through security again, and that was a bit of a nightmare. No TSA precheck so a long line, we had to take everything out of our backpacks (phones, Kindles, laptops), and basically strip down to our skivvy’s (take off shoes and belts) to get through the system. I first couldn’t find my Kindle in the bag, then thought I had left my cellphone in the bin. After a few minutes of panic, I found the phone and we headed into the terminal. Did I mention that Houston was 39° F and our flight was delayed by an hour? Houston has not endeared itself to us; both flights out of there were delayed.

Me, The Very Reverend Esther & Sue

Sue and I retired to the first bar we found and ordered a couple of cocktails…and had sticker shock. $20 per drink. We spent as much on two drinks as we did on drinks AND DINNER in Guadalajara.

The flight eventually left and we arrived at Fort Lauderdale at about 11:30pm. We hopped an Uber and arrived at my mother’s place at 12:30 almost exactly 12 hours after we left.

Saturday we spent the day visiting with friends and family and having a nice Thai meal with my mother. Sunday we returned to the airport and flew up to Baltimore to spend the week visiting with our most favorite (and only) granddaughter – and her parents.

Next stop – Rome!

Our last weekend in Guadalajara

It seems crazy, but this is our last weekend in Guadalajara. Next weekend we are in Mexico City and then we head back to the U.S. on the following Thursday. The time here has just flown by.

I took Friday afternoon off and met Sue in El Centro after her last day of school. I rode a Mibici (the rental bikes) from our AirBnB to her school and then parked it nearby. Our plan was to see two sets of murals by José Clemente Orozco. The first set is in the Palacio de Gobierno, or Government Palace. It the seat of power for the State of Jalisco. We arrived there just after 1 p.m., but unfortunately, we weren’t able to get it. Sue spoke to the guard who told her that they were only open from 3-4 p.m. We decided to head to the second set which are housed in the Instituto Cultural Cabañas.

 The building was originally a hospital and orphanage that opened in 1810. In 1980 it became a museum and in 1997, a World Heritage site. We wandered through a number of exhibitions, most were abstract, which is not my favorite. There was one dedicated to the history of modern art in Jalisco, which was quite interesting. However, nothing prepares you for the power and brilliance of the murals. They are housed in the major chapel building and they are simply breathtaking. There are 57 of them in all and they are political commentary on Mexican history and social injustice. Think about how difficult it would be to maintain proportion while painting on a dome.

After we had our fill of the museum, we skipped the Government Palace, in part because we were getting hungry. We decided to tick two places off our food list. For me, a torta ahogada  or “drowned sandwich” and for Sue, fish tacos. We stopped first at El Guerito (sorry, another Facebook page) for the torta. I ordered mine and the server looked at Sue, she said “Soy vegetariana”. The server looked at her with mixture of sadness and horror. He gently shook his head and wandered off to get me my sandwich. It was good, but nothing that would make me want to have another one. Then, we headed for Taco Fish La Paz, which Sue’s Spanish teacher had recommended. This, like many of the taco places, works like this: You place your order and are given the taco shell with the meat (or in this case fish), then you move over to long bar of fixings, like salad, salsa, etc. and you make you taco your own. Sue ordered on taco and one empanada and settled down after “decorating” them with salsa, salad and other stuff. She will have to tell you if they were any good. The were delicious and I had my usual agua fresca, flavor: green. I don’t know what it is but it’s yummy.

We headed home and relaxed for a while. In the evening, we went to the Paten Ale House  to try some local craft beer. We were under the impression that they brewed their own beer, but they did not. However, the food was nice and the beer was good.

Wadda mean it isn’t a cat?

Saturday morning (think 11 a.m.) we decided to try one of the breakfast places that Doug and Kenta (our trusty Guadalajara food guides) suggested. One challenge was that we forgot its name. We had a reasonably good idea of where it was and remembered that they had a round sign with a cat on it. What could go wrong? We headed out and by sheer good luck we found it right where we thought perhaps maybe it might be. It is called the Comala Barra de Café. We both had chilaquiles, mine with chicken and cheese, Sue’s with eggs and avocado. These were really delicious, and very filling. Every time I have chilaquiles, they are differently delicious.

After breakfast, we met one of Sue’s school colleagues, Peter, and headed back to Tlaquepaque. We wandered around the town and visited the Sergio Bustamante gallery. He did many of the statutes that are displayed in the town and all of us really liked his stuff. My favorite is this door handle, but alas, at $2,700 it is out of the price range of a guy who doesn’t have a fixed address. Maybe next year.

One of our goals in coming to Tlaquepaque was to hear a mariachi band. We read that El Patio (Yay! Not a Facebook page!)  restaurant had an all female band that played starting at 3:30 p.m.

What we got.
What I expected

We arrived there at about 3:15 and settled into our seats in the open courtyard. I tried to order a cocktail called a cantarito, but unfortunately, I could not remember its name, so I described it a a tequila drink that comes in a ceramic mug. (By the way, I am describing it to our server in English.) He smiled and said you want a cazuleade! I said Yes!, Sue and Peter went along for the ride. I was surprised, to say the least went it arrived. They place the bowl in front of you with the fruit and mixer in it, then they pour in the tequila. It was light and refreshing and went down far too easily. In case you are wondering, it is served with a straw, so you don’t have to try and drink it from the bowl.

Fried grasshoppers

Sue never ceases to surprise me, and today was going to yet another time. The menu had guacamole with fried Oaxaca grasshoppers. Yes, my friends, my vegetarian wife ordered and ate those. She explained to me that bugs don’t count as meat. Well, they are sustainable and don’t live miserable lives in tiny pens. Ok. I guess. But then again, in my mind, they don’t count as food either. They are excellent sources of protein. The band wandered around playing songs that it appeared everyone (but us and the other tourists) knew (and sometime sang along with). The restaurant is built around a courtyard, so while the music was loud when they were next to the table, when they moved away, it was easy to talk and hear. We sat and enjoyed the music but we had to head home because we had a dinner date with Doug and Kenta.

We Ubered home, had a quick shower and the Ubered to their home. Kenta was cooking vegetarian Japanese curry. They both are great cooks and tonight’s dinner was no exception. We sat, talked and ate for a few hours, all of us realizing that our time in GDL is coming to close. 😦

Un Puente

I didn’t have school Monday. The kid in me was thinking, “Yay! Three-day weekend!!” (or what is called un puente in Mexico), but the cheapy in me was thinking, “Hey! I paid for a whole week of classes!” As it turned out, we just didn’t have our field trip this week, so I am getting as much Spanish learning in, I just don’t get a chance to spend time on a Guadalajara bus. (They are cheap and will get you where you are going, but they are also slow, loud and crowded.) We were heading to Zapopan, where Steven, Kenta, Doug and I went over the weekend anyway, so nothing lost.

Jaontiveros, CC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

The day off was for Constitution Day, which was Saturday, but everyone loves a Monday off. The Mexican Constitution was ratified on Feb. 5, 1917, at the end of the Mexican Revolution. In the States, we love to celebrate Cinco de Mayo for some reason. This predilection puzzles Mexicans, who don’t think of the victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, as a major excuse to drink margaritas and eat nachos (not that they seem to need an excuse to drink margaritas ( I agree with them…no need for an excuse to drink Tequila)).

In some ways, the Mexican Constitution has it all over ours. It spells out social rights including the right to a good job, decent housing and health care and was the first to state that everyone has the right to an education. Hmmm, I’m not sure it’s working out the way the Constitutional Convention attendees intended, but at least it’s there in writing. Allegedly, the day is celebrated with big parades and festivals, but all I notices was that the major thoroughfares were closed to cars just like on every Sunday. I think Covid killed the parades.

In case you were thinking you might quickly skim the document, you know, to compare it to the U.S. Constitution or something, be aware that it is 156 pages and contains 137 articles. Here is the English translation (you’re welcome).

One of the amazing aspects of being here is understanding how little I know about this country that shares almost 2,000 miles of border with the United States. Cartels, migration, earthquakes, smog in Mexico City, all-inclusive resorts you can’t leave for fear of crime, day trips to TJ, these are the notions that came to mind when I thought of Mexico. I have a much broader view now and really would like to come back and see more of this large and diverse nation. Plus, I am just getting to the point where I can say a little more than, “Aprendo español.”

Know anyone who will speak Spanish with me? Or have any ideas how I can continue my learning when we are home for the summer? All ideas welcome.

OMG! We have a social life

On Saturday morning we grabbed breakfast across the street at Pata de Elefante. They have wonderful breakfasts, and Sue and I indulged. They had a two piece band (guitar and saxophone) playing in the corner and it enjoyed a quiet morning. Afterwards, we headed to Zapopan which is a city that abuts Guadalajara, and it is really just another neighborhood of the greater Guadalajara area. We went there to go to the local modern art museum with our friends Doug and Kenta. We biked to their place and they drove us to Zapopan. It has a nice little downtown and a large church that looks like it should be a few hundred years older than it is. Perhaps we are spoiled from our wanderings in France and Turkey, but a church built is the 17th century seems a bit new.  We didn’t go in as it seemed like quite a production so we took some photos from the outside, nodded our heads that we had seen it and headed for the museum.

It is an arts weekend in Guadalajara and the museum was displaying a bunch of local ceramics and mixed media art works. It is a fairly small museum with the ground floor dedicated to the ceramics and mixed media while the upper floor was dedicated to a collection of Alexander McQueen’s clothing. I found the ceramics interesting, and Sue explained in detail to me each piece of Mr. McQueen’s clothing she would deign to wear.

Once we finished the museum and wandering in Zapopan, we headed to the grocery store. Kenta wanted to take us to another upscale store called City Market which was very nice and we did our weekly shopping there and then headed home by Uber.

In the evening we met our friend Sam (for those who cannot manage to keep our social life straight – Sam is the young woman we met on the Tequila Tour who runs a vineyard in Napa, is vegetarian and is here studying Spanish for work) for an early dinner at a vegan restaurant that her teacher had suggested, called Choclo y Maiz (sorry all they have a Facebook page). The food was very good, even if it didn’t have any meat. One of the interesting things about Guadalajara (and perhaps all of Mexico) is that the main meal is earlier in the afternoon. Choco y Maiz closes at 7:45pm on Saturday night (and I think we mentioned that last Sunday we went to an Argentinian steak house and got there at 7:30 only to be told that they were closing), hence the reason to have an early meal.

After we were done, we headed to a craft beer bar that was pretty near our AirBnB (in the video the place behind the three green traffic lights). They had an open air dining area upstairs that looked down the main bar/restaurant road called Chapultepec. We found three seats on the railing that overlooked the street and ordered some beers. We talked and people watched. The street has a large median with a small open air market and there were a couple of performers doing circus acts (unicycles, juggling etc). We had a great view and enjoyed their show.

Nothing to see here folks….Just a guy balancing on a rope juggling in the middle of the street

Sunday we met up with more friends (Teresa and Stephanie) for lunch in El Centro (downtown). They are leaving on Monday so we had lunch, talked about our plans (they are spending a year traveling in Mexico) and made tentative plans to meet again. They sold us on a visit to Copper Canyon sometime in the fall – now we just have to make that happen. We may have sold them on visiting Chicago in July.

After we said our goodbyes, Sue and I wandered around El Centro, took a quick detour through the Mercado San Juan de Dios (we bought our fridge magnet!) and headed home to relax for the rest of the day.

Another beautiful weekend

We were very busy this weekend, and what stands out to me is that we weren’t really doing tourist stuff, we were just enjoying a city where we are temporary residents.

The required photo of the Instagram sign in the park

Friday night Sue made arrangements to meet a friend from school – Teresa – and her girlfriend, Stephanie, for drinks at a restaurant in El Centro – the city center. We sat outside in a plaza that had about half a dozen restaurants of various sizes and shapes. Stephanie is Mexican, but has lived in England for seven years. She speaks perfect English with a disconcertingly good English accent. Teresa is English and they are traveling around Mexico for a year or so.

Saturday, we decided to visit a large park on the northwest side of the city. It is called Bosque Los Colomos and is about 250 acres of mostly natural forests with hiking and running paths. There are   Japanese gardens, kids playgrounds, arts and crafts areas and other outdoor activities. To get there, we rode our Mibici bikes to the nearest Mibici station and then walked about 30 minutes to the park. The park was crowded in the kids areas and in a few other spots (especially the Japanese garden), but most of the time we were just wandering by ourselves. We stayed for a couple of hours, had ice pops (it was the low 80s so we were a bit warm) and then started walking home. The walk back took us right past our favorite grocery store so we picked up food for the week and Ubered home. All in we walked about 8 miles and then biked for another couple. I guess the Sue death marches are back.

A fake meat Tortas Ahogadas It almost looks like real food!

Saturday evening we went out to a vegan restaurant called La Flaca (sorry it is a Facebook page, but that is the big thing here – try Instagram too) with one of the women from our Tequila tour. She is staying about 15 minutes away in Tlaquepaque (which we went to a few weeks ago: here is the post). She is studying Spanish and staying with a Mexican family, but is at loose ends during the weekends. I was fully prepared to have to stop on the way home from the restaurant for some real food, but I was pleasantly shocked that the food was both delicious and filling. I had two tacos, one fake carne asada and one tofu in salsa verde. They were both very good. I even told Sue that I would be willing to go back there is she wants. Late update: Sunday morning I woke up with meat withdrawal so I had to run out and eat a breakfast taco to stabilize my body chemistry. OK, that isn’t true, but I thought it would be funny to say.

Sunday morning we met up with Doug and Kenta and rode bikes to a very small farmers and craft market in Chapalita, a residential neighborhood about 15 minutes away from our AirBnB. Guadalajara closes many streets to cars on Sunday mornings and so the ride was very pleasant. (The rest of the time the main rule is: pedestrians and bikes never have the right-of-way.) Guadalajara is mostly flat and it is always warm, so biking around the city is very easy. We did a bit of shopping, rode around looking at the houses, and then headed home. Sunday afternoon, we relaxed for a while, then retired to the bar/restaurant at the base of our building complex to watched the NFL playoffs – on the patio with $1 beer and tacos.

Three social events and a death march in one weekend. No wonder I am tired. I need to get back to work for the rest!

This is a completely pointless graph that I created in Excel to remind you all that I love a good spreadsheet. OK, I am leaving this in just to show that I am willing to humor Steven and his nerdy dad jokes.

Field Trip to Tonalá

Announcement: yes we have power! It was on when we returned from our “vacation from our vacation,” as our Tequila tour guide put it. OK, now onto our regularly scheduled program.

The best days at school are the days you don’t go to class! Every Wednesday is field trip day at IMAC (my Spanish school). Today we took the bus (which costs about 50 cents) to Tonalá, a city just on the outskirts of Guadalajara and just east of Tlaquepaque, where were were last weekend. We joined up with Mexican students who are learning English and toured the city. Tonalá is famous for its ceramics, so we visited two different ceramics manufacturers where our guide, Jorge, explained the process (todo en español).

At the first stop, the factory produced all different types of pottery animals, urns, birds, you name it. See below.

The second, Najaco, specialized in making ceramic Lupita dolls (they were $15 in Tonalá). The dolls are shipped all over the world. For some reason, Jorge, really wanted us to know that this included Russia. I think that is the farthest place they go. It’s a bit of a miracle considering they pack the dolls in shredded newspaper.

The ceramic process itself was interesting, and we did learn more about the food and culture of the city,but what I was really wondering is how the painters keep their hands so steady all day long. Some of them are painting tiny flowers and other adornments on the dolls.

Then, we walked down Avenida Tonaltecas, the main road which also houses a huge crafts market twice a week, where we got a history lesson via the many statutes that line the broad median. Tonalá was founded by Zapotec Indians who intermarried with other tribes, and the different cultural influences are apparent in the art. I think I understood most of what Jorge was saying, but who knows?

Perhaps the best part of being in a language immersion program is that most of the other students are also adventurers. I met a principal from England who quit her job and is traveling Mexico with her Mexican girlfriend; a Japanese engineer who is here for 5 years with his wife and small children; a fellow New Yorker who teaches online and is hanging out for now; and a woman who is searching for her dream retirement location in the sun. Fun!

I am starting to venture out into the world with more confidence in Spanish these days. I even understand some of what people are saying and can respond, albeit slowly and with limited vocabulary. I am enjoying trying to get my point across with my kindergarten-level lexicon and only 2.5 verb tenses.

If you happen to want to watch Spanish TV and Peppa Pig is not for you, try out Los Vecinos on Netflix. It’s a totally stupid and funny superhero sendoff set in Mexico City.

And, last, but certainly not least, we wandered the city with Kenta and Doug on Sunday as they showed us some of their favorite spots. We ate at Casa Trapiche, which is on Instagram if you’re planning to head over there. It’s worth it if you’re in the barrio. 🙂 I had a salad with beans, corn, chayote and quinoa with a lemon-based dressing and a taco dorado de papa, which is a potato taco with shrimp and a cucumber and onion dressing. Yum. Steven had a dogo del huerto which is not a hot dog, but meat stuffed into a hot dog shaped bun. He enjoyed it. I’ll take his word for it (It was very good, and more importantly they had a really good beer from a brewery called Colimita).

Tequila Tour

Friday started out like a normal workday. Sue went to school and I sat down to work. Everything was fine until our cleaner noticed that the lights had gone out. I did not have the lights on and was working with my laptop, so I didn’t notice that the power was out. We tried various lights (and I checked the internet); all were off. The cleaner offered to check with the building security guards to see if there was a problem. To keep a long story short, the electricity bill for the apartment was not paid, so they shut off the lights. The cleaner (who works for the AirBnB host) said she would take care of it. She said she had to go pay the bill and then the power would be back in an hour or two. (Steven neglects to mention that he speaks no Spanish and the cleaner speaks no English.) In the meantime, Sue returned and attempted to contact the host, but got no reply. Sue then contacted AirBnB who tried to contact the host, and received a reply that there was something wrong with the electricity. When the cleaner returned, she said that the bill had been paid, the electricity should be back soon and then she left. It was now about 3 p.m., so we decided to head out for some Lebanese food at a restaurant that we passed a few days ago. We hoped that the lights would be back before we returned.

The restaurant is called Sulemaya on Calle Marsella and is tiny (maybe five tables). We sat down and the server came by and gave us menus. As we were fumbling in Spanish he offered to speak English. We (really Sue) explained that we were trying to learn Spanish and bear with us. He said no problem and through the course of the conversation we found that he was fluent in four languages; Spanish, French, English and Arabic. We felt so inferior. Sue had a vegetarian platter while I had kibbeh and a kefta wrap. The food was delicious and we finished up with Lebanese coffee which is similar to Turkish coffee, but contains some cardamon. At about 4:30 we returned to the AirBnb, to find that we still did not have lights.

Weird bathroom

Sue contacted AirBnb and the host asking whether it was possible that the lights would be turned back on after 5 p.m. or over the weekend. We sat for a little while and then decided that since we were not receiving responses, we would check into a hotel and deal with it from there. There is a very nice Hilton in the mall where we go grocery shopping, and I booked us a room for two nights. We packed some stuff feeling kind of irritated and called an Uber. The hotel check in was easy and the room was nice. (The bathroom setup was a little weird. I’m not complaining, it was just odd. There was a front room with a sink and then two compartments with glass doors, one with a toilet and one with the shower. See pic.) We calmed down and remembered that this is an adventure and things do go wrong. No one was hurt, nothing was broken so we had to just shut up and get over it. The key to having adventures is being flexible and if the worst thing that happens here is that we have to stay in a hotel for a few day, oh boy we have no right to complain.

Monse (photographer) and our tour group

We had booked a tour of a couple of local tequila distilleries and of the the town of tequila for Saturday through TripAdvisor with a company called Agave Experience Tequila Tour. It was a small (no more than 6 people) group tour that stopped at two small Mexican owned distilleries, provided breakfast and dinner (11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.) and dropped us in the town of Tequila for about an hour. At 10:30 a.m. our driver, Monse, picked us up and we found ourselves traveling with four young ladies, two who knew each other and two who did not.  The two who knew each other were fresh off a long night out and did not talk much in the beginning due to their hangovers. (Oh to be young and stupid again!) The third, Emma, is from Toronto and is avoiding the cold by working remotely from Mexico (with her cat) for four or five months. Samantha, the fourth, is from Napa and works in the wine industry. She and her husband have their own vineyard Tectonic Wines, which I am shamelessly plugging here. Go buy some of their wines. Samantha is here learning Spanish for a month. Monse’s English is great and she managed to keep the conversation going by asking lots of questions and sharing her knowledge of the area. She had many suggestions for places to eat, drink and things we should do.

The different types of Tequila (round bottles l to r: Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, Extra Añejo, and Cristalino

A small diversion here to talk a little about tequila, tequila manufacturing and regulation. Tequila can only be made in five states in Mexico, must be made only from blue agave and each distiller is given a license number call a NOM (which stands for Norma Oficial Mexicana, but in translation means name, which is pretty funny because it is a number). Every bottle of tequila has a NOM. There are something like 180 distilleries, that produce 1,800 different brands. If the bottle does not say 100% agave, the distillers are adding sugar cane before the distillation process, which is allowed. Tequila only has to be 51% agave to be called tequila. There are five different types of tequilas that have to do with how long they have been aged in barrels (only oak barrels allowed):

  1. Blanco: aged less than two months
  2. Reposado: aged two months to one year
  3. Añejo: aged one to three years
  4. Extra Añejo: aged three years or more
  5. Cristalino: Añejo that has been charcoal filtered to remove some of the sweetness and the color.   

We headed for an agave field that is owned by the first distillery – Casa Marengo (NOM 1560). Monse explained how the agave was harvested (the leaves are cut off using a tool that looks somewhat like a flattened and sharpened spade), that the harvesters are called jimadors, and that the plant needs to be about seven years old before it is ready to be harvested. The jimadors need to harvest 5 tons of agave a day each and work from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.  

Once we finished wandering in the agave field we headed back to the distillery to taste. We tried some of each type of tequila from one of their brands. Sue and I preferred the older (no jokes please) types as we found them sweeter and smoother. During the tasting, Monse provided little bottles that contained extracts of flavors we might find in the tequila. We smelled the bottles and tried to guess the scent. We tried six scents and I was 1 for 6. I found it difficult name the scent even if I could identify that I knew the smell. It was fun and interesting. Once we were done tasting and looking around the distillery, we exited through the gift shop (I bought a bottle of their Amor Lindo extra añejo for about $50) and headed to the second distillery.

That one is called Cava de Oro (NOM 1477). Once again we toured the distillery and tasted all five types of tequila from one of their brands. We also tried a mezcal and another añejo that had been aged in red wine barrels.  This time as part of the tasting, Monse gave us fruit and sweets that were paired with each of the tequilas (and the mezcal) in order to bring out the flavors. It was very interesting, We preferred the first distillery to this one, that not meant to be a criticism, simply a matter of taste.

We headed from Cava de Oro to a restaurant called Ruinas El Chimulco. It is a pueblito called Amatitan and it perfectly encapsulates what we have found in Mexico. We parked at the top of the hill when we entered the village. There were a bunch of nondescript houses on the main street. We suddenly stopped and entered through a doorway and we were in a beautiful, park-like courtyard. It was gorgeous. I ordered a shared meat platter and a chicken mole with the two ladies from San Diego. Everyone else ordered some for themselves and some for the table. We had a huge amount of delicious food, most of which we finished.

We piled back into the car and we drove to the town of Tequila. Monse dropped us in the center of town and we spent about 30 minutes wandering around. The town has a large square (with a church in the center of course).

Around the corner of the church there was another square with a small tourist market and the obligatory Tequila Instagram sign. There were lots of people selling cantaritos (a local tequila drink) on the street in ceramic mugs. We passed by the Jose Cuervo and the Sauza distilleries in our wanderings, but did not stop for their tours. We headed back to the square, found Monse and headed home.

We got home at about 9:30 and promptly decided to head out to a nightclub…Only kidding, we collapsed into bed and watched the football game and some tennis.

….and that was just Saturday.

A relaxing weekend

Our drinks at De La O

We started our weekend on Friday night by walking over to a bar called De La O Cantina. It is a pretty hip place with interesting drinks and tacos. One of the challenges we have found is that many of the places that we are planning visit do not have websites and/or have a Facebook page that doesn’t have a menu. De La O falls into the latter category. What is up with the Facebook pages? They are less than useful. This is a bit of a challenge for us as the food here is very meat focused (Good for me! Bad for Sue). Luckily De La O had vegetarian options and so it worked out. In addition to having interesting tequila drinks (the one at the right has fermented pineapple in it), they brought around a small batch agave drink that we think was called Mezcalito for us to taste. It was very good and when we go to Tequila next week, we will see if we can find it.

Saturday, we took an Uber to a little pueblito (small town) called Tlaquepaque that is on the outskirts of Guadalajara. It has a couple of very small ceramics museums, many street statues, pretty architecture, lots of places selling tourist stuff and, of course, the required Instagram sign. Every cute little tourist town is outwardly similar, but they all reflect the diverse culture of their areas.

We wandered around for a couple of hours just soaking up the sunshine and the vibe. Later in the afternoon, we headed for dinner at Restaurant Casa Luna (once again, just a Facebook page). They had their menu outside so we were sure we could find things we both like. The restaurant is housed in a courtyard with beautiful chandeliers and lots of hanging lanterns. The food was delicious and there was a band playing Mariachi music which made dinner incredibly pleasant.

During the week we signed up for the local bike share system called MiBici. Residents sign up and then use a credit card to unlock the bikes. For foreigners, the system allows you to buy the yearly subscription ($20) using an American credit card, however, it will not recognize the credit card to unlock the bike. The work around it is to get a metro card and link the metro card to the MiBici account. (We learned how to do it through this vlog. Thanks Kenta and Kenta’s friends.) It was actually pretty easy once we knew what to do and we got our cards on Thursday. Every Sunday, Guadalajara closes a fairly large number of streets to cars from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The lunch place in the market

We took advantage of the both the bike subscription and the closed streets to go for a ride. We headed straight north to a street market about a mile away. We wandered around the market, which to be honest was similar to every other street market in every other city we have visited: clothes, electronics, shoes and general kitchen crap was all on sale. We didn’t buy anything, but we do enjoy wandering through them. We decided to grab an early lunch at one of the market food stands. We quickly figured out that one had vegetarian options and we settled on a couple of stools and fumbled through our orders. We ordered something called huaraches. They are fried masa dough with ingredients piled on the top (Sue had mushrooms, I had beef). On the table were chopped onions, cucumbers and carrots, sprigs of parsley and basil and salsa. Once the food was delivered, you put whatever you want on top. It was good fun and cost just about $8. We do like street food.

After lunch we grabbed more bikes headed to the supermarket, shopped for the week and then ubered home.