A Tale of Two Cities, Part One

“It was the BEST of times…”  Charles Dickens

That’s it. There was no “worst of times”.  Lucky me.  But good times do not make good novelists, so fortunately I’m content to be a sometimes blogger.

My other posts have all been about Querétaro, a delightful historic city–and I am far from done talking about it.  But this post is about  a SECOND undiscovered gem.  Undiscovered by most USA tourists, that is.

Global Volunteers are free on the weekend, so several of us took a bus to Guanajuato,  a two and a half hour ride from Querétaro.

And what a bus it was!  I only wish airplane seats were so comfortable.  Imagine being able to recline your seat without incurring the wrath of the person behind you.  How about having a foot rest so you can stretch your legs out, just like you are in your favorite Lazy boy.  Throw in free movies on your individual TV.  Of course, you have to watch Renee Zellweger speaking Spanish,  with her very full lips out of synch with her words.  That’s the Premiera Plus ( the name of the bus company) experience.   I preferred watching the countryside flash by, but that’s generally how I roll.  

The bus stations In both cities had snack bars, clean bathrooms (the 5 peso entry fee gets you the best seat in the house, toilet paper, soap and paper towels),  and comfortable waiting rooms, for those of you that care about such things.  (I’m definitely in that category.)

Taxis to the historic center were plentiful and inexpensive — 50 pesos, or a little more than $3.00 –got us delivered to our hotel off La Plaza de La Paz.

Check out my luxurious room.  The bathroom was also beautiful--complete with hair dryer, and huge towels.

Check out my luxurious room. The bathroom was also beautiful–complete with hair dryer, and huge towels.

Like Querétaro, Guanajuato is safe, clean, inexpensive, beautiful, friendly, musical, historic—AND it has a miradora–a panoramic view, something I can’t resist.

The pale blue building to the left of the yellow/orange cathedral is our hotel.  The hotel de la Paz

The pale blue building to the left of the yellow/orange cathedral is our hotel. The hotel de la Paz

I rode the funicular to the top of the hill, the site of the statue of el Pipila, who is clearly visible from just about everywhere in the city.

El Pipila

El Pipila

Those so inclined can climb inside, sorta like the Statue of Liberty. I decided to take one for the team, so I climbed to the top, and I’m going to tell you–the view’s not worth it.
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See how narrow the stairs are? The ladder to the top is even narrower, and just a tad scary.
So, how did el Pipila get his very own statue at summit of Guanajuato?  Are you getting tired of the history trivia? I hope not, because I’m going to tell you.

The Mexicans decided they had had quite enough of Spanish rule, so they started a rebellion (actually this is more of a Querétaro story, which will be a future post, but I’m drinking wine while I’m writing this, so let’s just go with it. Okay?)
El Pipila put a flat stone on his back to protect him from the Spaniards, who were holed up in a granary and tossing dreadful, dangerous things at him. He set fire to the door of the granary, which allowed the Mexicans to enter, slay with Spaniards and win the battle. Oh my God. Am I REALLY talking about battles and wars? Has it come to that?

Time to change the subject.
Guanajuato has an abundance of museums, and I was able to visit several of them. The things hanging on the walls were all very lovely, but what floats my boat are the buildings that house the exhibits. The Diego Riviera Museum is his childhood home.

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I don’t know whether he and Frieda actually slept there, but who cares? The architecture is fantastic, and the cutouts weren’t half bad.
Guanajuato has its fair share of churches, and if there is a wedding happening, I never miss an opportunity to crash it. This lovely bride’s veil was pinned to her groom’s shoulder. After the ceremony was completed, they were unpinned. Don’t know the background, but I thought it was an interesting custom.

imageWhat else can I tell you about Guanajuato?  The food was excellent.  The Mexican wine was delicious, and of course I felt compelled to take photos of everything, so you can see for yourself.

This bread was AMAZING!

This bread was AMAZING!

 

Enchiladas with mole (my guy's favorite) and green sauce, with frijoles.  For less than $12...including that great bread Nd a cappuccino!

Enchiladas with mole (my guy’s favorite) and green sauce, with frijoles. For less than $12…including that great bread and a cappuccino!

 

Mexican wineries?  Who knew their wine could be so delicious?

Mexican wineries? Who knew their wine could be so delicious?

I could keep posting photos till your eyes roll back into your heads. But I won’t. I’d encourage you to enjoy visiting this amazing city and will leave you with just two more photos.

One of many bars in the town.

One of many bars in the town.

 

I'm not sure why Don Quixotes is so big in Guanajuanto.  That's my Ssignment for my next visit.

I’m not sure why Don Quixote is  is so big in Guanajuato. That’s my assignment for my next visit.

I’m almost out of power, so I’ll post. Please forgive the typos…drink a little wine, and this will all make sense to you. Visit this wonderful city and fall in love with it!

Santa Anna Slept Here

Yes, THAT Santa Anna.  The one who inspired the classic phrase, “Remember the Alamo”.  The one who, when he lost a foot and part of his leg in battle, gave it an elaborate military funeral.

Fun fact for those of you planning a trip to Springfield, Illinois.  After his foot’s funeral, Santa Anna had a cork prosthetic leg made.  That very leg was captured during the Mexican-American War and is currently on display in the Illinois military museum.   If you are anything like me, you are probably wondering just HOW Santa Anna’s leg happened to be separated from his body.  Well, thanks to wikipedia, I can tell you, and the truth isn’t anyway NEAR as interesting as what my mind conjured up.  From the military museum’s website:

In 1847, Illinois soldiers “came upon General Santa Anna’s abandoned carriage and found gold worth $18,000, a roast chicken lunch, and his artificial leg. They turned in the gold, ate the chicken and kept the artificial leg as a souvenir. 

So, why am I telling you all this?  Well, it just so happens that Santa Anna and I have something in common.  No, I do not have an artificial leg on display in a museum.  At least not yet.  We BOTH have slept at the Hotel Hidalgo.  But just to be clear, not at the same time.

Built in 1825, the Hidalgo Hotel was the first, and by definition, the best, hotel in Querétaro.  During the war, “the refinement of the hotel made it a favorite choice” for Santa Anna.  His stay ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe, “which gave more than half of Mexico’s territory to the USA.”  (Actually, they didn’t GIVE it to us; we paid $15 million for it.  More expensive than Manhattan or Seward’s ice box?  I’ll let you be the judge.)

How do I know all this? I’d like to be able to claim that my attentiveness in history class and my truly amazing memory are responsible, but anyone that knows me would never swallow THAT tall tale.  Nope, the source of my hotel knowledge came from this mural in its entry.

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As one might expect of a hotel almost 200 years old, it has its quirks. For example, the size of the showers would lead you to believe that they were not a common feature back then.
As with people, each room has its strengths and drawbacks. But with the right attitude, these quirks can become rather endearing. Plus, the staff is wonderful, the rooms are very clean, it costs less than $40 per night, and the location is absolutely ideal.

If, however,  you prefer to sleep in a convent, or in the house of a dead Marquesa, those options are also available.  Those of you who have been reading along may recall the snarky comment I made a while back about La Casa de la Marquesa probably paying Google to show up on its maps. Little did I know that the Casa, like the Hotel Hidalgo, is a historical site with its very own legend.  And you, dear reader, will soon read all about it.

It seems that Don Juan Antonio, the Marques, although a married man, had a yen for a nun, Sister Marcella Nasturtium.  The good sister, despite remaining true to her vow of chastity, was still able to persuade the Marques to build an aqueduct to bring fresh water into the city, and to build the most beautiful house in Querétaro, which he then gave to his wife.
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Lobby of the Casa de la Marquesa

Lobby of the Casa de la Marquesa


One more hotel story then I’ll end this post. It seems that being a nun in the days of old was not a bad gig, if you managed to be born to the right family. One rich man built a convent for his daughter that was the grandest in a city filled with grand convents. The Convent of Santa Clara had its own orchards and gardens, and the rents it collected allowed the nuns to live in private houses with their own servants. Wow.

Fountain outside the convent

Fountain outside the convent

Hotel detail.  What do you expect?  It WAS a convent?

Hotel detail. What do you expect? It WAS a convent!

Courtyard inside the convent/hotel

Courtyard inside the convent/hotel


And to think that YOU could sleep in ANY of these buildings! Is this not a cool city?!!

You Call This Work?

So, what  EXACTLY do Global Volunteers do in Querétaro, Mexico?  As with all other GV projects, the volunteers do whatever our host asks us to do. And boy oh boy, are we well utilized here!

Five out of our group of eleven volunteers

Five out of our group of eleven volunteers

At the Universidad Tecnológica de Querétaro (UTEQ), we spend four to five hours a day talking with highly motivated, enthusiastic students.  Our schedule varies from day to day, to ensure that the early morning and late afternoon students also get an opportunity to interact with us. For example, on Tuesdays, we catch our cab for UTEQ at 7:20 AM for an 8 AM class and are finished teaching at noon. On Wednesday, we start teaching at 5:00 PM and are done at 9:00 PM. On the remaining days, our start times range from 9 AM to 12 PM. I’m here to tell Ya–I have even more respect for teachers. It is NOT easy being 100% focused for several hours straight.

Because the demand is so great, we never work with a student more than once. Initially, I wasn’t sure I’d like getting a new group every hour, but the students are wonderful, and the time absolutely flies by. You don’t even notice how tired you are until the cab ride home.

One of my groups

One of my groups.  I LOVED working with these wonderful young women!

Group size varies. Sometimes we might each have 2 to 4 students. Other times we might have 10 to 12.

It is difficult to do much preparation, because you don’t know what you will be getting until you arrive in the classroom and start talking with the students.  Some have prepared questions to ask us; others are shy, needing encouragement and gentle coaxing to get them to talk.

Pam, our leader explained that the goal was not necessarily to teach specific words or grammatical points, but to build students’ confidence.  What a relief–I can do that!  Once again, I discovered that patience, a sense of humor and enthusiasm were my most important tools.  Oh yeah, that, plus a small white board, index cards and my iPad have been getting me through the day.

Before I left home, I raced around my house, camera in hand, taking photos of various objects that I could show on my iPad, as my back up plan. Good thing. For beginning students, it came in handy. For example, I used visuals like this, to have them practice asking each other, “what is this?”, then take turns answering.

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In the midst of my pointing out objects on my iPad, I heard a chorus of “awwwwwww”.   Mystified that cutlery could inspire such a reaction, I flipped my iPad around to find I had inadvertently switched the photo from my kitchen table to my sister’s granddaughter. image
The students wanted to know all about “the baby”, so we talked about Bonnie–what was her name, where was she when the photo was taken, what was she wearing, what was she holding?  Little Bonnie is now quite famous here in Querétaro. One student (bless his heart) wanted to know if she was MY baby.  That led to a discussion about grandchildren, my sister, her daughter, all the other members of my family tree and my age!

Occasionally some of us have a break between classes.  That’s the perfect time to head for the cafeteria for informal discussions.  Today, I met an older student who is employed by the Swedish company Ericcson and attending school.  He confessed to being a bit reluctant to approach me until he saw me smile at him and nod my head.  His English was excellent–he just needed a little confidence. I felt like the Wizard of Oz!

Ericsson isn’t the only major employer in the areas. Other companies include Samsung and Daewoo from South Korea, Bombardier(Canada), Nestle(Switzerland) Siemens(Germany), Santander (Spain) and Kellogs, P&G, Bose from the good Ol USA.  Querétaro is definitely an international city.

Ericsson has invested heavily in UTEC.  Volunteers that had been here before mentioned that the campus had been spiffed up, buildings had been repainted, thanks to the generosity of Ericsson. They also donated the language lab, which is the building behind this sign.

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What I really like, however, is the banner BEHIND the building, and not only because it is in English.

“An Everyone Everywhere World”, in which everyone gets the chance to fulfill their potential. What a beautiful sentiment. What a wonderful world that would be!
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And what an amazing way to spend two weeks! Who knew work could be so much fun?