The first four days in Roma

This week has been a bit of a whirlwind, and this portion of the blog is going to cover only Sunday to Thursday. I promise will write more tomorrow or Monday about the rest of the week. I am also only including a few photos. Our amateur photos of Vatican do not do the the art justice, so please use the links to see professional photos.

We arrived in Rome on Sunday morning after a smooth flight. Monday Sue’s brother David and our sister-in-law Stacey arrived from Chicago. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary with a 10-day trip to Italy. Stacey is supremely organized and so we just waited for them to arrive and for Stacey to let us know what we were doing and when.

Tuesday morning was a four-hour tour of ancient Rome. A driver picked us up at our place and took us to the Coliseum where we met our tour guide. The day was cool (40s F) and quite windy. It made for a rude change from the 80°+F that we were used to in Guadalajara. Sabrina, our tour guide, quickly ushered us into the Coliseum and started filling us in on the history of both the building and of ancient Rome. One of the benefits of using a tour, rather than just entering on our own, is that we had access to the “upper decks” of the building. There is a museum on the third level and with Sabrina’s excellent explanations we learned so much. Some of the things we found out included that the building is the Coliseum, not because it is so large, but because there was a statue of the emperor Nero called The Colossus that predated the building; that the building was partially destroyed in an earthquake during the 13th century; that there is no mortar between the large limestone blocks, they were held in place by brass pins and those brass pins were looted during the middle ages, which accounts for large holes in the those blocks (don’t think too hard about the fact that the entire building doesn’t have anything holding the blocks together); that the original bricks used were triangular as they held the mortar better than rectangular bricks; and finally, that you can tell the nicer areas by the quality of the floors. The upper tiers had brickwork floors, the lower tiers had mosaics while the emperor’s walkways were lined in marble. 

After about an hour, we headed to the Forum, which is the original city center for Rome. The buildings along the forum road generally dated from ancient times, many of the buildings are still in very good condition and as Sabrina commented, “The buildings that were converted to churches are the ones that survived.” The rest were looted or, in more modern terms, they were recycled to be used for other buildings. We saw lots of evidence of that in the Vatican (foreshadowing – we go there on Wednesday). The Forum was built in a valley between the hills of Rome, and so one of the first things the Romans did was to design a drainage system to keep the area dry. After the fall of Rome, the area fell into disrepair and slowly over the years ground level rose (due to sediment and fill) to be about 10 meters higher than the original road. The excavations brought the area back down to the original. Once again, Sabrina was very informative and while we were cold, the time passed quickly.

Once we had our fill of the Forum, the driver picked us up and we drove past the remains of the Circus Maximus, and then to the Jewish Ghetto. Sabrina gave us a quick tour of it and then we said good-bye to both her and our driver. We found a nice place for lunch and warmed up and relaxed.

After lunch, I headed back to the AirBnB to do some work, while the others headed to the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Spanish Steps.

Stacey also organized our tour of the Vatican Museum for Wednesday. We started the day by taking the metro four stops and wandered to a little (literally six seats – think of a New York pizza place that has a small railing with a few seats) handmade pasta place that our AirBnB host had recommended, called Pastasciutta. You simply order your pasta and your sauce and they make it up right in front of you. After lunch we had a little while to kill so we wandered near the Vatican and found a coffee shop. Stacey, Sue, and I ordered a drink. I ordered a Viennese, not knowing what it was, and the photo to the right is what I received. Yum!

We met our tour guide, Valencio outside the entrance and he whisked us through the incredibly complicated system to get in. First you show the guards your reservation, then pass security, then get your ticket then head upstairs to the entrance. It is a system that would have made Rube Goldberg proud. The Vatican Museum is simply astounding. The entire layout is set up to lead you through the collection and ends in the Sistine Chapel.  The rooms are stocked full of amazing artwork, there are innumerable statues, mosaics, and other objects d’art from ancient Rome including what may or may not be Nero’s bathtub (imagine a cistern about 20 feet in diameter about 5 feet high). Many of the popes, especially during the Renaissance commissioned gorgeous murals that covered entire rooms. Valencio pointed out that during that time there was a focus on the Greek and Roman philosophers many of whom appear in the artwork.  We looked at room after room of stunning artwork and even the rooms where Valencio said “there is nothing interesting here” were amazing. The final part of the museum tour is the Sistine Chapel, which simply defies description. The rules for visiting include no photos, no loud talking and the tour guides are not allowed to provide commentary.  We spent about 30 minutes quietly contemplating the magnificence of Michelangelo’s work before heading out.

After the Sistine Chapel, we walked over to St. Peter’s Basilica and once again were just amazed by the grandeur of the building and the decorations. We spent about an hour wandering through the basilica with Valencio filling in much of the history. We saw the Pieta by Michelangelo, the massive central alter and soaring bronze canopy that covers the alter, but perhaps most impressive was the Bernini’s sculpture for the tomb of Pope Alexander VII. The way he used the space is amazing. The entire sculpture is over a door to some offices, but he managed create a beautiful and moving piece that has so much symbolism. It is awe inspiring.

After four hours of drinking from the fire hose of history and art, we called it a day and hopped on to the Metro home for dinner and gelato.  

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!

Mexico City

Four days and just a little sleep

This has been a busy four-day weekend for us and I thought I would give you a quick idea of what our schedule was like. Sue will fill in more details in the next blog, but for now I just figured you might like to see a timeline and a few photos.

Thursday

The now legally required Instagram sign for the city.

9:00 am  – We grabbed an Uber to the airport – it was about a 25-minute ride. Our flight was scheduled for 11:25, so we got there quite early because we were not sure what security would be like.

9:35 am – Through security

10:50 am – Boarding starts. The boarding plan was kind of interesting. We lined up by seat number. First class boarded, then they boarded from the rear of the plane forward. We were row 10, so we boarded pretty late.

11:30 am – It is scheduled as a 90-minute flight, however, wheels up to wheels down was actually about 45 minutes. We barely had time to have our drink and eat a couple of empanadas we brought on board for lunch.

12:45 pm – We are at the gate and off the plane. We received a free transfer from the airport to the hotel, so we found our driver and headed into Mexico City.

1:30 pm – We stayed at a hotel called AR218 in an area of the city called La Condesa. The check-in went without a hitch and we quickly unpacked our stuff.

2:15 pm – We head out to walk up one of the main thoroughfares called Avenida Insurgentes. We relied on my brilliant reading of Google Maps, so we went about a mile an half the wrong way. Oops.

5:00 pm – We found a park called Parque España. It was a cute little park, and in the middle there was a young man giving massages. Sue decided that she wanted one, so for the grand sum of 80 pesos (about 4 US dollars), she had a 20-minute neck and back massage. (It was fabulous!)

5:30 pm – We started to get a bit hungry on the walk so we wandered over to a place called El Rey de Falafel. It was no L’as du Fallafel which you might remember from one of our posts from Paris, back in August. But was still really nice and filled the hole.

6:00 pm – Our wanderings brought us to Parque Mexico, which was busy but still an oasis in the middle of a crazy city.

6:30 pm – We returned to the hotel having covered about 9 miles.

8:30 pm – We strapped on our walking shoes again and head out to Baltra bar, a place one of friends suggested. It was a bit too hip for us, so we had a drink and then left.

9:30 pm – We walked over to another place near our hotel that was recommend to us called Felina. We sat outside and watched the evening go by for a few hours.

12:00 am – Back to the hotel and called it a night.

Friday

9:00 am – We booked a tour to the Teotihuacan Pyramids about an hour outside Mexico City. All in we spent about 5 hours getting there, learning about their history and getting home.

2:00 pm – Back in the hotel for a quick rest.

3:00 pm – Ubered to the center of Mexico City to see murals by Diego Garcia and others. We first went to the Government Palace, but unfortunately, we were not able to get in to see the murals. (Damn Covid!) In Mexico, opening and closing times for public access seem somewhat random. But since our language skills are not the best and we have trouble understanding what the guards are saying, we just shrug our shoulders accept the no, and move on.

The Rockefellers didn’t like this one.

4:30 pm – We walked from the Government Palace to the Palacio des belles artes that has murals by Diego Garcia, José Clemente Orozco and Alfaro Siqueiros. The website that we found said that the museum was open until 7 pm, so we figured we had plenty of time. However, when we arrived, they said it closed at 5 pm (see above comment on the opening/closing times). We knew we didn’t have much time, so we focused on the murals. The Diego Garcia mural was originally commissioned by the Rockefellers, but they had it painted over when they saw that Lenin and Soviet May Day parades were included; he then recreated the original here. We had seen other works by Orozco in Guadalajara (here is the link to the post) and the one we saw in Mexico City was being restored, which was pretty interesting in and of itself. I was taken by the work of Sr. Siqueiros, and we will stumble on his name later in this post.

The ceiling at Comedor Lucerna

5:30 pm-7:00 pm – We wandered from the Palacio over to Comedor Lucerna, a weird and wonderful food court that Sue found.  It wasn’t very far from the Palacio, but we didn’t want to get there too early, so we just wandered. We passed by the Museo Nacional de la Revolución, which luckily for me was closed, as it has a glass elevator, and I am sure Sue would want to go up, so I would feel obliged to join her.

7:00 pm-9:15pm – We had dinner in the food court and relaxed . At about 9:15, we walked a couple of blocks over to a jazz club called Parker & Lenox. The had a really great trio playing and hung out for both there sets.

12:30 am – Ubered back to the hotel having walked just about 7 miles.

Saturday

9:30 am – Somewhat surprisingly we woke up a bit late.. I wonder why😉.

10:00 am – Ubered over to the Museo Nacional de Antropología. It was amazing and overwhelming. We spent about two hours there and saw about one quarter of the collection when we both reached our limit. It is absolutely on our list of places to visit again. (I guess that means we’re coming back to Mexico!)

12:00 pm – We had somewhat of a deadline to leave the museum as we had reservations to visit Casa Azul (Frida Khalo’s house), which is in a southern part of the city called Coyoacán. Our plan was to Uber down to Coyoacán, grab lunch at a place that we found and then head to the museum. But the best laid plans sometimes go awry. The restaurant didn’t open until 1:30 pm, which is when our tickets were for, so we just wandered around the area and killed some time until we could get into Frida’s house.

1:30 pm-2:30 pm – Visiting Casa Azul was interesting and we will write more about it in another blog, but for now, here are a few photos.

Famous Dead Person

2:30-3:00pm – Around the corner from Frida’s house is the house that Leon Trotsky lived and ultimately died in. For those of you who are not up on your revolutionary history, Leon Trotsky was a hero of the October Revolution but, for reasons that would take up too much space to write here, Stalin had exiled and then killed. Interestingly, there was an unsuccessful attempt on his life a couple of months before he was killed, and one of the assassins was Alfaro Siqueiros, the mural painter who I really liked.

3:30 pm – After getting our fill of Trotsky, we headed back to Amatista’s Tostadas (the place we wanted to go, but was closed until 1:30 pm). We had a wait about 15 minutes to be seated, but the food was delicious and quite truthfully, we were starving. After our late lunch we wandered through a little art market that was around the corner and then Ubered back to the hotel.

8:00 pm – Having recovered from the day, we had dinner at little cantina around the corner called Montejo. Once again, we sat outside, watched the world go by, ate, and drank some really nice tequila.

Sunday

The line for Chilaquiles tortas

9:00 am – Our tour guide on Friday had recommended a “place” (really a food stand on a corner near our hotel) called La Esquina Del Chilaquil that served the city’s best chilaquiles. It is just a food stand on the street corner and the line goes up the entire block. What you get when you order is essentially a chilaquiles sandwich (torta). (Corn tortillas and salsa on a roll? Can’t be beat.)

10:00 am-2:00 pm – We Ubered to Bosque de Chapultepec. It is large park in the middle of the city with a botanic garden, a couple of art museums and the anthropology museum from yesterday. Our goal was to go to Chapultepec Castle which has a Mexican history museum in it and was supposed to be open all day on Sunday, only it wasn’t. No idea why, but that is just the way it is sometimes in Mexico. Instead we wandered the park and visited the Museo de Arte Moderno , not my favorite style, but is was very nice.

2:30 pm – We ubered back to the hotel and grabbed lunch around the corner a pizza place called Balboa Pizza. It was pretty good pizza for not New York.

3:00 pm – Back to hotel and grabbed our bags and took a 30-minute ride to the airport. Once again we left lots of time to get through security and once again it took 5 minutes. The flight left about 20 minutes late and arrived just a bit early.

8:00 pm– Back in our AirBnb in Gaudalajara. Maybe just a bit tired.

8:30 pm – I realize I left my phone in the cab. We track it via Find My Phone. Yup, it’s back at the airport. We called the taxi driver, who spoke no English, and managed with the help of translation (it’s hard to speak Spanish when you’re feeling like an idiot) to communicate. He graciously brought the phone back to us and we rewarded him with what was a lot of money to him, but was well worth it to us. There are good people everywhere!

11:30 pm – Finished writing the text of the blog and will add the photos and publish tomorrow.

I need to get back to work so that I can get some rest!

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.