Saturday, December 16, 2017

Passages From Puebla

Day 1 of our trip to Puebla, December12, 2017:

We left San Miguel in the chill of the early morning, 8 am, and headed south towards our destination, the city of Puebla, also known as Puebla de los Angeles,  home of the Poblanos, not the chilis, but the people of the city. Located southeast of Mexico City and west of Mexico's main Atlantic port, Veracruz, on the main route between the two, it is the largest city of the state of Puebla, Mexico with more than 3 million people.On our way we passed the huge Audi and Volkwagon factories, a source of many jobs for the region. For more interesting facts see:

For years I celebrated Cinco de Mayo, wrongly believing it was a significant day of the Mexican Revolution. Not so. That day in May of 1862, the Poblanos defeated the invading French. As happens often in history, an occupying nation leaves its mark on its victims. Puebla is a city rich with French and European influences from its architecture to the city plan laid out in a neat grid of wider streets than we have in San Miguel de Allende, running North to South and East to West.  In the center is the huge central plaza, the Zocolo crowned by the Catedral de Puebla, one of the most renowned churches of its kind in the world. Also, the “crown jewel”of some 90 churches in the city.

After a 6-hour ride in our luxury tour bus, we arrived in Puebla, unfolded from our seats and walked a short block to the charming Hotel Colonial, once a convent, built by the Jesuits in 1698. Once our luggage was unloaded, and kindly brought to the hotel lobby, we checked in and went to our second-floor room, which surprised us with its high half-timbered beam ceiling and tall, carved wooden French doors. We opened the doors to find windows overlooking a lovely garden of trees and shrubs. 

The pretty Christmas tree in the hotel lobby 
We looked out on a lovely garden and interesting roof tops 
Our pretty room with a view 

We soon set off to find a restaurant for lunch and discover the treasures of Puebla.

Though we traveled there in a group of 47 people, we saw our travel mates only in the morning at breakfast in the hotel dining room and in small groups of one or two couples and singles at shared restaurant meals. One of the fun parts of the trip was making new friends. Lots of free time allowed us to discover and enjoy many of Puebla’s treasures. With the help of the hotel concierge, Gary and I found the near-by “Casona de la China Poblana” (see the legend of “la China Poblana” at the end if this blog). Our tummies stuffed with a delicious lunch of local cuisine, we headed off to discover the city.

Christmas decorations in the restaurant  

Our table 

The legendary "China Poblano"

First stop, the Zocolo.  Because our trip began on the Dia de Guadalupe, a Mexican holiday, hundreds of families were strolling in the Zocolo, the main center of the city, a huge open plaza. Children were dressed in the Poblano costume of the day and ran, jumped and played in the plaza in front of the cathedral. One of our favorite pastimes in Mexico is watching the darling chlidren run about and play. We invariably find this is a great way to meet  Mexican families, and this day was no exception. After a brief conversation with this delightful family, their three daughters, each with a small child, we waved “adios” and continued on our exploration of the area. We were struck by the very European “feel” the city, charming wrought iron ornate balconies suspended from second and third floor windows against beautifully tiled or painted facades. As darkness set in, the lights of the seasonal decorations came on.

In the plaza in front of the huge Cathedral de Puebla, many families were gathered

The nice family we met in the plaza 
 Day 2: After an early breakfast we joined many in our group who had decided to go on the Africam Safari tour. Everyone boarded the bus and an hour later we pulled into a broad natural area of varied flora—and fauna. I’m sure many of you will be as skeptical as I was and say: “ African Safari in Mexico? You’ve got to be kidding! Poor animals, they’re probably under-fed and in cages and miserable,” but joyfully this not the case. We spent 3 hours roaming in a tour bus with large viewing windows, this amazing place started 45 years ago by Captain Carlos Carlos Camacho, thus the name “Africam” after its originator.  He loved nature and animals and wanted to share them with his countrymen and others. Read the story here:

Then join us on a photo safari: 

The Lioness and her cub. So content. 

Beautiful scenery, too.

The King of the pride.  He looked so relaxed, content and well cared for. Couldn't believe how close we were to him. 

That afternoon we joined two other couples for comida, the large mid-day meal in Mexico.We found a wonderful restaurant, Augurio's,  in the heart of the historic district. 
We even had to wear bibs with the restaurant's name on them.  
The restaurant was not only had charming d├ęcor, but offered fabulous local cuisine, some of the best I’ve tasted in Mexico. Amongst the famous dishes are the appetisers “chulupas,” small tacos topped with delicious salsas and sometimes shredded pork or chicken. Perhaps, the most famous dish being is the Mole Poblano a thick chocolaty sauce over chicken or pork. We regaled our attentive waiter and had a fun time, laughing, eating and getting to know one another. 

 On our way back to our hotel we stopped at the well-known Museo Amparo, one of the many renowned art and history museums Puebla offers. We enjoyed a wonderful show of fiber art by Sally Hicks, and other artists from the US and Paris. 

That night, after a short nap at the hotel, Gary and I enjoyed another long stroll in the beautiful Zocolo all lit up with holiday lights. We stopped at the rooftop terrace bar/restaurant of the Hotel Royal for a glass of wine. The view, overlooking the Zocolo was spectacular.

Beautiful lights everywhere! 

That's Gary in the foreground as we began our walk through the tunnel of lights 

This delightful lit up bear in yellow and blue made me think of my alma mater, CAL, Berkeley 

No mistaking the season! 

Day 3: After breakfast, those who wanted were treated to a trip to Cholula, an archiological site of repute. Gary and I opted out of that in order to visit the amazing Museo International de Barroca. This recently opened museum, designed by Japanese architect, Toyoo Ito, was featured in a recent National Geographic Magazine. Its striking, pure white modernist exterior reminded us of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain designed by the Canadian American architect, Frank Gehry. We visited that several years ago.  The interior exhibits and arrangement of open spaces at the Barroca are spectacular. We found ourselves enthralled. Of course, I opted to spend the day. There were so many interesting exhibits, not only about the Baroque period of art and design, not always my favorite, but also exhibit halls with modern artists of Mexico, one being Amador Montes whose paintings I fell in love with. Too much to take in without a break, we met friends in the charming restaurant for a gourmet lunch, an art feat on its own with elegant service to match. 

Outside the front of the International Museum of the Baroque 

Gary awaits the taxi

We ended the day with a taxi ride in traffic back to our hotel and met friends for dinner at another well-known Puebla restaurant, Casereyna, where we had another delicious meal, though Gary and I opted for the lighter one of soup and salad. We walked back to our hotel tired but satisfied after another stimulating day in Puebla. We knew we had to pack and prepare for our next morning’s delivery of our suitcases downstairs in the lobby of the hotel so they could be loaded onto our tour bus. Fortunately, we had three more hours before meeting the rest of the group at the Fonda Santa Clara and boarding the bus to head back to San Miguel. A few of us decided to take full advantage of the time and headed off, a few blocks away, to the Uriarte Talavera factory. Puebla is famous for it’s beautiful Talavera ceramics and boasts six factories within the city’s borders, all with a history of their own. We had a tour of the whole facility and marveled at the craftsman ship of the many artisans working on the complicated forming, glazing and producing of the fine Talavera ware and sculptures we so admired.  

 After the tour we had just enough time to walk a few blocks to the Fonda Santa Clara and enjoy another amazingly delicious lunch, our last one in Puebla. Though I did not order this I was delighted my friend offered me a taste of her Mancha Mantel, a delicious dish of chicken topped by a sweet and fruity red salsa composed of tomatoes, plantains, peaches and pears. I’ll end on a humorous note. The words mean:  “spotty tablecloth,”  which I guess is what happens when one enjoys the dish so much they accidently spill much of it on the white tablecloth, as they relish their meal. We felt we consumed a fabulous meal, figuratively speaking, taking in some of the many sites of Puebla. We plan on going back for “seconds.” 

Felice Navidad to all. Hope you enjoyed the trip with us to Pueblo!