We are beginning to develop a workable routine for our days here in Queretaro. After a long full day, we generally reserve the following day for rest and relaxation.
At first my farm boy work ethic was resistant to the idea of just laying around all day, but then, when you think if it, the average American is just that: Go to some fancy beach-side resort for a week, and lounge by the pool guzzling one of those fancy expensive drinks with a paper umbrella stuck in it.
As it transpires, our little accommodation has proven itself just perfect for daytime relaxation. At first glance, it is somewhat of an impenetrable fortress, having NO exterior windows, just solid walls.
However, on further reflection, one can see the wisdom of this secure design. Our place surrounds a nice little open air courtyard, upon which all interior spaces view through spacious windows or glass doors. The courtyard is a perfect place for me to hang out in the morning for coffee and working on the blog:
and the courtyard windows make the entire place light and cheery. Several ceiling skylights add to the ambient lighting, to the extent that everytime I visit El Bano, I think I have left the light on! And, the 10 foot high ceilings add to the sense of a larger than actual space.
Construction techniques are quite different than in Texas. We have yet to see a bulding constructed of wood, as these residents understand that wood doesn’t withstand the test of time. ALL the buildings here have solid stone walls, of width up to a foot, and it many cases cast concrete ceilings as well. These structures were designed to still be usable several centuries from now!
Thus our routine has consisted of a brisk early morning walk to some new uncharted area in the Centro, followed by an afternoon of reading/video viewing (Yes, Elmo, we DO have WIFI here in our unit, as well as in many of the public plazas, and yes, Mexico uses the same 110 volt system and “standard” 2/3 pin wall outlets, just like at home).
One recent morning was committed to a visit to the Museo Cuidad, once again completely FREE. Housed in yet another multi-floor, multi-room classic building, the museum had an intriguing and multi-faceted display of art work:
This has also been a week of DISCOVERY. I mentioned in a earlier post of our discovery of a bespoke tailor just 2 door down from “home”, and I am eagerly awaiting delivery of my made-to-measure pantalones next Wednesday.
Considering the near-giveaway prices of our tailor, my thoughts turned to the possibility of a pair of hand made shoes as well. In fact, at our trip to Tesquisquipan early, I found a beautiful pair of shoes in a high-end shop for just $50US, but alas my size wasn’t available, so I had visions of scoring a bargain on a pair of bespoke shoes.
Sure enough, a Google search turned up a one-man shop, Castez Ermili, that specializes in fabricating custom measured footwear. The shop was literally less than 5 blocks from our location (as seems to be the case with everything around here). I called and scheduled a viist to the shop with Martin, the owner, who told us he moved here several years ago from Argentina.
Martin gave us a detailed description of his shoe construction process, which entails detail measurements of the foot, then sending out for a custom wooden last specifically made to those measurements. He had several works-in-process to show us, and the workmanship was incredible:
However, the more he talked, the more I could see these weren’t going to be Amazon prices. Finally we got down to the actual price, which turned out to be about $700 US for the “basic” shoe, with likely desired options upping the ante considerably. Yikes! These are Donald Trump shoe prices! With tail between my legs, I thanked him for his time and limped away, with the thought that perhaps my $50 Trekkers will suit me just fine, thank you very much!
Another more pleasant and rewarding discovery came during our continued on-foot exploration around Queretaro. Much to our surprise, we found a REAL supermarket some 1.5 kilometers from us. It looked every bit as modern and well stocked as any Central Market back home:
To appreciate the magnitude of our find, one must understand that throughout the El Centro district, “food” stores are generally sized and stocked at smaller dimensions than a typical 7-11 in Austin, so this felt like discovering the mother lode! We now see that our 5 mile trek to Costco the previous week was unnecessary.
Adding to our list of pleasantly surprising discoveries was the place we had breakfast this morning. But first, I should digress and discuss the general food service situation in Qro..
There must be a thousand little “hole-in-the-wall” eateries dotting the streets of the city. It seems the only requirement to be an food entrepreneur here is to get yourself a hot plate and a few bowls, find a 6 foot wide building space, and open shop. Most of these little places have no real sign out front save for a posted menu of offerings. The most common, almost ubiquitous dishes are Gorditas (little “stuffed” tortillas), Tortas (sandwiches), and Huaraches (an oblong shaped thick tortilla with meat/cheese served open faced).
We have cautiously tried out several of these shops (despite the complete absence of any sort of posted health department inspection), and find the tortillas to be universally tough and rubbery, and the fillings to be rather tasteless.
Even most of the larger, more “established” restaurants do seem to specialize in Mexican style dishes. We have yet to find a single decent order of “totopas” (basic tortilla chips). That has been surprising and disappointing to find, that in an area where tortillas are clearly made and cooked by hand, for the chips to be universally tough and less-than-fresh.
The same goes for most bakery items we have sampled here.. nothing yet can compare even close to bakeries one might visit in Austin.
The one dish I have had on two occasions has become my favorite “local” offering: Enchiladas Queretanas. These are rolled tortillas stuffed with, usually chicken, and covered in a tasty mole sauce, and accompanied by cubes of potatoes:
That’s why we were so thrilled to stumble on a crisp and modern styled breakfast place this morning, called ‘Oliva” (no NOT “Olivia”). We found this place as we walked along Avenida Universidad, a main dual-lane street with opposing traffic separated by the Rio Queretaro. This street seems to be mostly populated by commercial businesses, such as car repair, peloquerias (barber shops) and motorcycle shops, so it was a surprise to find this place hidden just off the street.
We walked in, sat down, and the waiter shortly brought over a tray of scrumptious baked “dulces”. I snapped up an almond croissant, and before I could even put it in my mouth I could tell it was going to be great.. and it was.. perhaps the best almond croissant I’ve ever had!
This was followed (naturally, as a dedicated bread-hound) by the crispiest, tastiest waffle I’ve had to date, accompanied by fresh raspberries.. umm.
Dorothee chose “huevos divorciados” a dish with two eggs, one covered in a red sauce, the other in green sauce.
The best surprise was the pricing, which seemed little different from other much lesser places we have been. We will definitely be back. (after the fact, we did find that other diners agreed with our enthusiasm, awarding the place an average 4.8 star rating on Yelp).
The highlight of the day came in the evening. We had been seeing posters around town touting the Iberica Contemporanea festival this week. Similar to the Jazz festival earlier, this city-wide event features various dance performances, some free, and some with attendance charge.
The kickoff event was to be held at Plaza Guerrera, You guessed it.. 5-6 blocks from our home. We had noted construction of a huge tent earlier in the week for the event, which was to be a preview of the various styles of dance to be presented during the week, ranging from ballet to Flamenco. The first night’s event was to be totally free, so we felt compelled to attend.
We weren’t alone, as the plaza was completely full of other attendees.. all seating had long since been taken, so we were relegated to a standing position at the rear of the tent. Fortunately for us, our height towers over most of the local populace, so we were afforded a good view.
The most spectacular part of the presentation was at the beginning, where a fabulous light show was projected onto a multi-story classic building across from the plaza.
The video below can’t begin to present the magnitude of the light projection, as the building itself, and the projection, was a full city block wide, but it is still worthy of viewing. Most noteworthy was how the light forms exactly matched the real windows and doors of the actual building (perhaps not completely obvious from the viewing)
Lunes 24 Julio
Saturday turned out to be a less-than-perfect day for me. Immediately adjacent to our residence is a very small food establishment. In fact, it is so close that our secure entrance hallway actually has a high opening into the patio of the adjoining “joint”, affording us all the smells and patron-sounds of the place. I hesitate to call it a cafe or restaurant, since it is among the legions of little mom and/or pop places that line the streets here, usually with little or no signage outside.
On this day, we decided it just wouldn’t be right to live next door for almost a month without patronizing the joint at least once. So… we ventured inside, to find a handful of patrons, and an order bar manned by the obvious owner (food preparer) and his young daughter at the order desk/cash register. Options were very simple: do you want a burrito, or a burrito? The only choice was with the several varieties of fillings, either unidentifiable meat or other ingredients. We both made the same choice, which appeared to be a sort of shredded pork in a spicy sauce.
The dish preparation process, conducted right in front of us, consisted of papa plopping a spoonful of meat-concoction in the center of a flour tortilla, rolling it up, and slapping it on a paper plate.
We took our plates along with an unbranded soda, the only offering for bebida (sin hielo. ice) and retired to the small two table patio in the back, sharing the patio with a mom and her two children.
Before I had even finished my burrito, I was feeling like something was not quite right. I soldiered on to the bitter end, but in short order the old innards began grumbling. By mid-afternoon I was making my way back home where I was obligated to remain in close quarters with el bano, such association being a familiar one all throughout the night. The following day was spent mostly in bed, save for the frequent trips to my now-most-visited cuarto (room) nursing my enfermado estomago, and cursing the next door burrito joint.
By day’s end, and the grace of the stomach gods, the worst was over, to the extent that I felt safe to weakly venture out on our customary evening stroll to Plaza Jardin Zenea, about 8 long blocks away, where we enjoyed the now-familiar Sunday evening crowd of peatones in the plaza, watched numerous street performers, and listened to the city brass band.
(Editor note: as of Wednesday 4 days later, all internal systems are still very unhappy)
Street scenes in Queretaro
My recovery was a good thing, since we had previously arranged with our local guide, Uriel, for a 14 hour private excursion by car to the very touristy city of Guanajuato. We had read about Guanajuato, and its popularity as a tourist destination, and thought this would be a relatively inexpensive way to do a survey of the city with the thought of this possibly being our next extended adventure in Mexico.
Uriel arrived at our house right on time at 7:30 in the morning for our long (2+ hour) drive to Guanajuato. The route was beautiful, mostly in open country, and through quite a variety of terrain and small villages. The open fields soon gave way to beautiful mountanous passages, until we finally came to our destination. It is a uniquely located city nestled in a high valley with steep mountains on all edges. We understand that the city was first established due to discovery of gold and silver in them thar hills. In fact, a number of the original mines cut into the solid granite hillsides have now been converted to tunnels for vehicular traffic.
The house sites are literally cut right into the faces of the mountainsides, and the terrain is so steep that there are no streets for cars.. just long, steep, forboding pathways and stairways to get to the upper houses.
It is a colorful city of almost 200,000 residents, most of whom seem to be tourists clogging every available street, path, and restaurante!
While we found the city interesting, honestly the press of tourists and the ubiquitous curio shops was fatiguing and perhaps even a bit depressing. The whole scene made us appreciate even more our quiet, gentile, and tourist-less city of over one million residents!
We can now cross Guanajuato off our list of potential future vacation sites.
It was well after 8:00 in the evening when Uriel finally delivered us back to our doorstop, after a tiring yet enjoyable day of playing tourist!