Locking our Love Forever with Love Locks

Happy Valentine’s Day! We wanted to celebrate the annual day of love by sharing the story of our love locks.

A couple of weeks ago, Bob and I attached a little gold padlock to the new Love Lock Bridge near the Riverwalk in San Antonio to lock our love forever, then kissed and took a selfie to mark the occasion. On our lock was written in Sharpie “RG & LH,” inside a hand-drawn heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow. The bridge was actually a chainlink fence along the San Antonio River, but it was covered with hundreds of locks of other couples declaring their undying love.

It was the 15th time we have declared our forever love by placing a lock on a bridge. Normally we are not super-sentimental people, but love locks are a ritual we have grown to cherish during our travels, leaving our mark on bridges and walls all over the United States, Europe and Mexico (so far).

Paris, France

It all started in the summer of 2016, when I was planning to accompany Gavin’s scout troop on a week in the romantic city of Paris. Before we left, Bob gave me a padlock and asked me to write our initials on it and hang it on the Pont des Arts Bridge, which was famous for having so many lovers’ padlocks affixed to it that it groaned under the weight, and authorities had had to cut them off. He had seen the bridge during a weekend he spent alone in Paris during a business trip, and thought it would be nice to have our own lock there.

Surprised and touched by this rare sentimentality, I happily obliged. After the troop set off for the next leg of their trip, Switzerland, I went down to the River Seine and searched for the love locks. The city had decommissioned the Pont des Arts Bridge in 2015 because of the weight of the locks, so I went to the Pont Neuf. It was covered with thousands of lovers’ padlocks tumbling down the banisters and onto the railings of the river walls beyond. Across the River Seine from where I stood was a magnificent view of the Louvre. I locked our padlock, blew a kiss to Bob across the ocean, and took pictures. I’m sure if the locks get too heavy, authorities will cut them off again. But until then, RG & LH will grace the Pont Neuf in Paris, the city of lovers.

Paris

It was a grand, and small, gesture of love. It felt good. It made me think about why I had married this man, what we had experienced together, and how special our life was.

Hamburg, Germany

Three years later, we were visiting my brother Patrick in Hamburg, Germany, and walking along the Elbe River when we saw another bridge covered with lovers’ locks. We didn’t realize the tradition had expanded beyond Paris. Since we were leaving the country the next day, we went and found a hardware store to buy a lock, wrote RG & LH with a Sharpie and enlisted Patrick to hang it for us. A few weeks later, he sent a photo of our lock on the bridge. (Thanks, Pat!)

Hamburg

And with that, we were off, searching for love lock bridges, or creating our own, everywhere we went, together or apart. While on a five-week tour through Europe, we hung locks everywhere.

London, England

In London, we strolled across the pedestrian Jubilee Bridge and listened to a street musician playing Caribbean steel drums while we snapped our padlock in a spot all its own and kissed above the Thames River.

Rome, Italy

After a long day of sightseeing as a family in Rome, when Gavin’s and my feet were aching from miles of walking, Bob trekked back in the rain to hang a lock over the Tiber River. 

Rome

Sorrento, Italy

Farther south in Sorrento, on a solo weekend trip while I was off doing genealogy searching with some Italian cousins, Bob discovered an iron fence with love locks along the Mediterranean coastline about a mile from his hotel during his morning run. He spent the afternoon searching for a padlock and a Sharpie, but a torrential downpour forced him to wait to return until the next morning, when a break in the rain gave him time to quickly walk there and fix the lock in place before heading for the train station.

Sorrento

Hydra, Greece

In Greece, during a daylong boat trip, Hydra, an idyllic fishing village where bleached-white houses climb up the mountainside from the azure Mediterranean, offered herself as an entrancingly scenic host to our love lock.

Ludlow, Vermont

The tradition continued when we returned to North America. First, we affixed a love lock to a bridge in Ludlow, Vermont, where we have our second home.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Then we headed down to live in Mexico for the first six months of 2019. During a two-night on break the road trip south, we took the streetcar to hang a lock on a chain-link fence in New Orleans, under a banner that read Love Locks NOLA in front of the Eiffel Society, a club built from parts of a former Eiffel Tower eatery.   

Leon, Mexico

When we came to Mexico in January 2019, the first city we stayed in was Leon, where we found the Puente Del Amor (love locks bridge) at one end of the Causeway of Heroes, a wide pedestrian walkway that serves as the gateway into the old city. After spending an afternoon looking for ferreterias (hardware stores) to buy a padlock, we put our lock through the padlock of another lock at the top. The bridge looked down upon a highway, with mountains in the distance.

Lake Chapala, Mexico

We never found a good spot in Tlaquepaque, where we lived for four months, or Guadalajara, the city next door. But we visited beautiful Lake Chapala, half an hour south, for a day trip and walked out to the end of a fishing pier to hang our lock on a rusted turquoise railing overlooking Mexico’s largest freshwater lake. On the way, we had been stopped by announcers for a local radio station who were broadcasting live, and thus posed for the obligatory selfie in our new orange Guadalajara T-shirts.

Guanajuato, Mexico

By far the most interesting place to hang our lock was the magical town of Guanajuato, where there’s an alley so narrow that people can kiss from across two balconies. There’s a tragic legend of a young man who was killed for stealing a kiss from the daughter of a rich man. We put up our lock and kissed across the alley. (Fortunately, Bob survived.)

Montreal, Canada

We lived in Vermont during summer 2019, and took a couple of trips to Montreal, Canada, hanging one lock on a bridge overlooking Gay Village and the other on a small bridge in the main pedestrian area along the St. Lawrence River, looking out at a huge Ferris Wheel.

The Farm, Cascade, Pennsylvania

When we visited The Farm, the family homestead in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania where Lisa’s paternal grandmother grew up, we hung a love lock from the rusty metal rope that secures the entrance to the old lane.

Thwarted

We were occasionally thwarted in our efforts. In the beach town of Cambrils, Spain, there was no official Love Locks bridge, so we scouted the promenade along the ocean but never found a spot where we could thread a padlock. There was an official Love Locks spot in Barcelona, but we didn’t have time to visit it. We have looked several times while in Burlington, VT, but have not yet found a spot for a padlock.

Part of the tradition of the Love Locks is to throw the keys into the river to seal your eternal love, but we don’t do that because we don’t think it’s good for the health of the fish or the river. Thus we still hold all the keys to each other’s hearts.

Our Love Locks Map

Click on each pin to see an image of the lock in its home!

Up Next …

We have just arrived in Mexico City and are looking for a place to hang our 16th lock. We’ll keep you posted!

Enjoy the video of our love locks experiences on the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel. Happy Valentine’s Day!

By Lisa & Bob

Mexico, My Tummy and Advice from Kelly Clarkson

I am sitting by the pool of Casa Estrella in Guanajuato,
looking out at the spectacular view that has become warmly familiar in the five
and a half weeks we have been here. I have barely eaten in three days.
Blame my tummy. And my determination to experience everything
Mexico has to offer.

Gastronomic Curiosity


Since we are trying to experience true Mexico and not
tourist Mexico, we are NOT eating at the Hard Rock Café or the typical tourist
traps. We are eating the Mexican way.
My first street food foray, in Leon:
An Agua Fresca Mandarina (Mandarin Orange Fresh Water)
straight out of a plastic bag. It was delicious,
gave me no side effects, and emboldened me to be adventurous!
We only drink bottled water, like all Mexicans. We buy local
produce, bread, chicken and fish at local mercados (markets) and tianguis
(pop-up markets), which means we have to ignore the presence of the flies and wash
everything carefully with disinfectant before we can eat them. We enjoy meals from
puestos, food carts, often with seats, eating tacos, tortas and lonches (different types of sandwiches, filled with meat and cometimes smothered with sauce) and gorditos (little filled pancakes).
We love buying raspadas, which are shave-ice and syrupy fresh fruit, often
accompanied by sugar-drunk bees.
A delicious cup full of salmonella
(Just kidding –  raspadas never made us sick.
Only supremely happy. Every damn day.)
We love to eat at out-of-the-way, hole-in-the-wall places,
where we have made some magnificent discoveries. I found the best green salsa I
experienced in Mexico, with mouthwatering chunks of avocado, at a walk-up food
stand in the Mercado at Plaza Embajadoras. Whenever I can, I indulge in Horchatas
and Horchata Fresas, a uniquely Mexican rice, cinnamon and vanilla drink that
is made even better by adding fresh strawberries.
My favorite street food in Tlaquepaque: Elote (corn)
with a (mystery) crema (cream of indeterminate origin)
and queso (shredded cheese)
o
We drink Mexican craft beers, local mescals, and a variety of
tequilas. We indulge in nieve de garafas, ice cream handmade in metal jugs
with ice and energetic stirring with a wooden mallet. Flavors include elote
(corn), pay de manzana (apple pie, with real pieces of pie), queso de zarzamora
(blackberry cheesecake), Ferrero Rocher, Nescafe, and often 10 or 20 more. Bob’s
favorite place in Tlaquepaque offered at least 60 flavors.

Hecho a Mano


Everything is handmade in Mexico. Who knows how often hands
are washed. You just have to not think about it.
The best salsa in the world …

… and the pork tacos I smothered with them
And the fact is, sometimes you don’t have a choice where you eat. You’re driving to the beach and there’s only one restaurant to choose from at the mid-point when everyone’s hungry. So you chow down and hope for the best. And sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind if you really want to experience a place.

Paying the Price


So occasionally we pay the price for our adventurousness with
a few days of service to the commode. I
don’t think you need me to explain the symptoms. It has happened to Beto and me
twice and Lex only once (she is not as adventurous, which may be a good thing). 
Each bout takes four or five days to recover, during which
we rest a lot (because we’re weak and moving is painful) and enjoy a riveting
diet of ginger ale, Saladitas (Saltine crackers), Gatorade and chicken and rice
soup. We call them inadvertent dieting opportunities, which have given us a chance to shed the pounds we gained scarfing down ice cream through every city we visited in Europe last fall. I assume each tummy bout makes our systems stronger and more acclimated to whatever may be in the food.
I look at it this way: When we first moved to Mexico, I had issues with my legs, calves, and Achilles tendons for the first two months as my body adjusted to the fact that I was walking many miles every day on hard sidewalks or cobblestone in flat shoes. My stomach has had to make the same adjustment to different foods, spices, and even microorganisms. 

To Quote Kelly Clarkson

As Kelly Clarkson would say, “What doesn’t kill you makes
you stronger!”

Don Quixote in Guanajuato

Today we visited El Museo Iconografico de Don Quixote, or the Iconographic Museum of Don Quixote, a truly unique museum you won’t find anywhere else but in Guanajuato. 
There is a big bronze statue of the fictional character Don
Quixote right outside, and a brilliant baritone singing in front of the house
next door, so who we were we to say no?

Who the Heck is Don Quixote?

For those not well-versed in literary endeavors, Don Quixote
is a fictional character created by the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes in a
book rather awkwardly titled The Ingenious Gentleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha. This
is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615, Don
Quixote is the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish
literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature, it regularly appears high on
lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published, such as the Bokklubben World Library collection that
cites Don Quixote as the authors’ choice for the “best literary
work ever written”.

Needless to say, no one in my family has read it, not
even Aryk, the writer and English Literature major. This is what Wikipedia says
it is about:

The story follows the adventures of a noble (hidalgo) named Alonso Quixano who reads so
many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity
and decides to become a knight-errant (caballero
andante), reviving chivalry and serving his country, under the name Don
Quixote de la Mancha. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho
Panza
, as his squire, who often employs a unique, earthy wit in dealing
with Don Quixote’s rhetorical orations on antiquated knighthood.
Don Quixote, in the first part of the book, does not see the world for what it
is and prefers to imagine that he is living out a knightly story.

Don Quixote and My Mother

My late mother’s favorite musical was The Man of La Mancha, a 1965 musical about Don Quixote. She would have really enjoyed this museum. If you have ever heard the song The Impossible Dream, you should know it comes from this musical. (I realize this is irrelevant, but I had to share it anyway.) 
The museum, located a couple of blocks off the main
square, was founded in 1987 by the collector Eulalio Ferrer Rodríguez, a former
captain in the Spanish Civil War who, legend has it, traded a pack of cigarettes
for the book Don Quixote, and the book helped keep him
sane and captured his imagination during the time he spent in a refugee camp in
France. An entrepreneur involved in communications and advertising, he later immigrated
to Mexico and brought his devotion to Don Quixote to Guanajuato, which is now
famous for its annual, month-long Cervantino festival – even though Cervantes himself
never set foot in this city!
Eulalio Ferre Rodriguez


An Amazing Variety of Art

The museum is quite good. It’s situated in what was
probably the mansion of a mine-owner, and it houses in 16 rooms a striking collection
of different types of pieces by different artists whose theme revolves around
the figure of Don Quixote and the rest of the characters in the novel. There
are bronze sculptures, surreal paintings, sketches, multimedia pieces and more!
Here are a few of my favorites.

Car Setbacks (a.k.a. Shit Happens)

All was not completely smooth in our trip across the country
and into Mexico,as we ran into several car-related setbacks.

First, the Car Accident

The first came in late August when Lexie was working on
getting her driver’s license. One Saturday we decided to get some interstate
driving experience in and drive north on I-76, away from the crowded metro Denver
area. We were concentrating on watching cars that were merging onto the highway,
as Denver drivers have a bad habit of expecting cars already on the highway to
yield to them. Driving in the right-hand lane, we came to an entrance ramp
where a car and medium sized U-Haul truck had just gotten on the merge ramp. We
were opposite the truck so we couldn’t speed up, but before we could even slow
down the U-Haul moved right into our lane. Lexie’s immediate reaction was to
shift left to avoid the truck, but unfortunately, another car was there. We hit
that car, bounced off, and Lexie lost control. Suddenly we were heading for the
concrete median at 65 mph. Crash! Airbags deployed. Things didn’t end well for
the truck, or for Lexie’s hand, which was broken and in a cast for 6 weeks. 
The U-Haul
driver just drove on up the road. I assume he never even saw
us.

Chain Reaction

This set off a chain reaction. First, we had to find a new
truck. Unfortunately, we had already ordered a custom topper which only fit
Toyota Tacomas through 2015, and it was black. So we started looking, all over
the country for a low-mileage 2015 Tacoma in a color compatible with black.
This consumed valuable time that we needed for packing and finishing up on the
house, but we eventually found a charcoal one in the Denver area that had about
50,000 miles less than our older 2012 truck.

 License & Registration

The accident also meant that Lexie wouldn’t be able to get
her driver’s license in Colorado, because she could not drive again till she
got her cast off, which would be only a few days before our scheduled
departure. We would have to figure out that later.
And it created some difficulties in getting license plates
and registration for the new car in Colorado since CO had recently switched to
a new computer system which had created a backlog.

Next, the Battery

Our troubles in CO weren’t over yet. On the day before we
were scheduled to leave, the new truck wouldn’t start. We had it jumped and I
took it to NAPA to get the battery tested. The battery was bad, and I changed
it out in the NAPA parking lot.

Then, Rear-Ended

For our last meal in the Denver area, we decided to go to
Woody’s Pizza in Golden, our favorite pizza place. They make a wide variety of delicious
pizzas, and you go to the counter and grab a slice of whatever pizza just came
out of the oven. On the way, we were stopped at a red light on a fairly major
road, 2nd in line. Traffic was stopped behind us. The light turned
green, but the person in front of decided he wanted to change lanes so he
didn’t move until traffic on our left had cleared. As we sat waiting, the woman
in a large truck behind us suddenly rammed into the back of our truck. Our
truck was half packed, but fortunately it was drivable, with only damage to our
tailgate and bumper. Because of our tight travel schedule to make it across the
country and catch a plane to Europe, it would be three months before we could
get the damage repaired.
The new truck with topper, right before the accident
So we had to drive across the country with a badly damaged
bumper held on by a bungee cord.

Our Car Registration Expires

We parked our truck at Lisa’s brother’s house in northern
Virginia and he graciously took us to the airport for our European trip. During
the time away, our temporary Colorado registration expired, so we had to call
the car dealership from Greece to get an extension sent to Lisa’s brother so we
wouldn’t be driving illegally when we got back.

Back to Lexie’s Driver’s License

Back from Europe, our plan was to spend some time in our
Vermont house and get Lexie the driving practice necessary to pass the test. Then
we would both fly back to CO, get the new car registration and take the test.
However, since we own property in Vermont we investigated whether Lexie could
get her license and whether we could register the car there. We found out we
could do both, and now Lexie is a resident of Vermont. We also registered the
car there. Vermont DMV took our CO title and told us it would be a few weeks
before our registration and title would arrive in the mail (to our Colorado
address).
Unfortunately, the weather was abnormally snowy so we didn’t
get as much driving practice in as we expected, still Lexie was ready to take
the test a few days before our scheduled departure. Unfortunately, she didn’t
pass, mostly because the examiner didn’t like the way she parallel-parked the
truck. (Personally, I completely avoid parallel parking the truck because I
can’t do it.) She actually parallel-parked perfectly, but before she had time
to straighten the wheels out, the instructor told her she was finished and to
move on – and then deducted points for not straightening out the truck!
It was frustrating, but we rescheduled the test for the day
before we were scheduled to leave VT. Then, just as we were getting into the
truck to go to the test, the examiner called us and told us that a mistake had
been made and that they rescheduled the new test too early, as Vermont has a three-day
waiting period between tests. That meant that Lexie still doesn’t have her
license, which we will have to take care of this summer.

Cracked Windshield

We embarked on our trip to Mexico in early January, and on
the second day on the road, we took a stone to the windshield which caused a
crack. We didn’t want to go into Mexico with that so, as we were driving, we
scheduled a glass repair while we were staying at our AirBnB in New Orleans the
next day.

Troubles at the Border

We’ve previously documented our problems in getting into
Mexico because we still hadn’t received our permanent registration from Vermont
read that blog. 

Sidetracked by the Gas Crisis

And, follow our problems in getting the whole way to
Guadalajara due to the gas crisis in Mexico here! 

Rising Above

However, even with all of the minor setbacks, we made it to
Mexico and have started our new life — and we certainly have learned how to
handle adversity! And sometimes the setbacks provided unforeseen advantages. Because
of the accident, we have a newer car that is better able to handle rough
Mexican roads. Because of the gas crisis, we discovered a city we never would
have thought to visit, Leon.

Welcome to Messy Suitcase on You Tube! Part 1: Launching a New Life

Messy Suitcase is on YouTube!

We are officially launching the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel. Please visit, subscribe, and follow us on our adventures in Mexico and beyond!  Because life is short and the world is big.  #messysuitcase #lifeisshorttheworldisbig

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Getting Broken Saxophones Repaired

(Even though we have moved on to Guanajuato, we still have a few blogs from our life in Tlaquepaque to post. Enjoy!)

We have two saxophones here in Mexico. Because I routinely
play an alto, I keep it on a stand. Unfortunately, one night the nocturnal cat
activities got a little too rambunctious and they knocked my sax onto the hard
tile floor. My sax had some damage and needed to go into the repair shop.

Lex plays the bari sax, and one day one of her keys no
longer functioned properly. It needed to go into the shop, too.
Back in Colorado, we knew of several good shops. In
Guadalajara, we didn’t know of any. Mr. Google provided several potential
musical instrument repair shops. Then we had to use WhatsApp, in Spanish, to
find out whether they repaired saxophones. Fortunately, Mr. Google provided a
picture of the front of one shop, Taller (Workshop) Rodriguez e Hijos, which had
a sign which said they repaired saxophones. They became the de facto winner.

The sign says: Repair of All Types of Woodwind instruments, including Clarinets, Trumpets, trombones and Saxophones, Gold-Plated, Nickel, Chrome

Visiting Rodriguez e Hijos

Lex and I Ubered to the shop on a Monday afternoon. No
Spanish spoken there, but we managed to convey what we needed. The sax expert
came out and gave our saxophones a thorough examination. Then, in very rapid
Spanish, he explained to us what he needed to do. Neither Lex or I understood a
word he said, we just nodded in agreement. He did point out four areas that my
sax needed work on. When we asked him when they would be ready, he told us three
days.
I also asked how much he thought it would cost and he told
us that he wouldn’t know until he did his work. I left with a little concern,
since we gave both saxophones to someone we didn’t know and with no idea what
it would cost us to get them back.

Bob’s happy saxophone

Lexie’s rejuvenated bari sax

Lex and I returned on Thursday, and as promised the
saxophones were ready. I took mine out and played a few notes. It sounded good.

Then Came the Bill

I then asked the question I was almost afraid to ask – how
much was the bill? To my astonishment, the bill was $450MXN, or less than
$25USD. I gave him the money and we were off.
I don’t know exactly what was done, but I can guarantee you
that the work would have cost us at least $150 USD back in Lakewood, and
certainly wouldn’t have been done in 3 days.
But both saxophones were fixed and now sound the way they
should.
Thank you Taller Rodriguez e Hijos!

We have a new name!

“Life is Short, the World is Big” is our philosophy, our passion, our lifestyle, our motivation, our inspiration.

But as a blog title, it was just TOO LONG!

So we are in the process of changing the name of the blog to Messy Suitcase! After all, we are living out of a few suitcases stuffed into the back of our truck (along with three musical instruments, three cats and our youngest child, Lex, who is on a gap year from college). OK, we let the cats and Lex sit in the back seat, but you get the point!

Every few months, we pack up those suitcases — often with “help” from the cats — and head for our next destination, where we again live out of messy suitcases!

Connect to Messy Suitcase on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube — and watch for our YouTube channel to get a lot busier.

Thanks for supporting Bob and Lisa in our travels … because life is short & the world is big!

Do you recognize Ellie Smoit, the Adventure Cat, in our new logo?

Discovering Mayolica Pottery in Santa Rosa

We recently had the privilege of visiting a pottery workshop called Mayolica Santa Rosa, where a family business turns out breathtaking, intricate, handmade pottery lovingly
created with dedicated fingers and devoted hearts.

The simple two-story cinderblock workshop occupies one side of the street in
the ancient, dusty village of Santa Rosa, high on a mountain about 25 minutes northeast
of Guanajuato. A huge showroom is across the street. (Unfortunately, we were
not allowed to take pictures in the showroom, to prevent any thievery of their
designs.)

It’s not a place many tourists visit, especially Americans, and it’s their loss. Javier Salazar, the wonderful manager of the Casa Estrella, where we are fortunate to be staying, generously drove us and another couple, Carolee and Gilberto, up to
the village to see how pottery is made. The suites and apartments in Casa
Estrella are filled with beautiful pieces from Mayolica Santa Rosa.
The sign over the door of the store

Visiting the Workrooms

The workshop is a high-ceilinged building with two large workrooms.
In the front room is the giant kiln, as well as shelf upon shelf of unfinished
pieces of pottery ready to be transformed into works of art. 

The big white box on the left is the oven

We were amazed as we watched one man hand-draw a stunning, detailed design
onto a large pedestaled bowl. His name was Juan, and he was the only one entrusted
to design the pieces.
The artist at work
Up the stairs and in the large back room, the Area de la Pintura (painting area), several painters painstakingly
painted the colors within the lines of his design, carefully shading the pieces, which appeared
pastel and bleached until after they were fired in the huge oven.

Before firing in the oven
The intensity of colors after firing
Mayolica Santa Rosa was founded in 1963, and is dedicated to
the manufacture of Mayolica Ceramics, a porous type of ceramics that originated in
Spain. It gets its name from Mallorca Island, which was on the trade route to
Italy. All the pieces are turned and decorated by hand. The business is
currently represented by the third generation of eight brothers.
Seen outside the door to the painting room
The sign outside the painting room says (in my bad Spanish translation): “Welcome to the Painting Area. Every piece that you admire and acquire is unique because each one carries part of the artist, since it is delivered with a feeling unique for its creation, with the best quality.”

Visiting the Showroom

The entrance to the showroom

This fresco, outside the family’s home next door,
is a great example of their work.
The sheer volume and quality of the pieces for sale in the
massive, two-level showroom is absolutely breathtaking. There were plates and
bowls, cups and saucers, pitchers and vases, fountains and pots, statues and
urns, tiled frescoes, and more. The intricate designs were derived from life in
Mexico: groups of fruit, flowers, village scenes, chickens and pigs, Frida Kahlos,
and many, many Catrinas, the reverential, skeletal image of death in Mexico.

UPDATE, May 26

I just discovered several beautiful pieces of Mayolica pottery in our apartment, Casa Estrellita, at Casa Estrella. (Watch for a blog about the amazing art in our apartment!)

And I found this beautiful tile wall art by Mayolica Pottery in the fitness center at Casa Estrella. Enjoy!

The Herradura Tequila Express

(Even
though we have moved on to Guanajuato, we still have a few blogs from our life
in Tlaquepaque to post. Enjoy!)
Living
in Tlaquepaque, we were less than 50 miles from the birthplace of tequila, the
town of Tequila. So of course we had to visit and become acquainted with Mexico’s
most famous alcoholic beverage!

What is
Tequila, Anyway?

Tequila,
a type of mescal made from the blue agave plant, was first made in the 16th
century. Mexican law states that tequila can only be produced in the Mexican
state of Jalisco and in limited number in three other states. Tequila must be
40% alcohol (80 proof) in the US, but in Mexico it’s usually 38%.
There
are over 100 distilleries producing over 900 brands of tequila, and many conduct
tours and tastings at their haciendas.
We
decided to splurge and signed up for a day trip on the Herradura Express, a
special train leaving from Guadalajara to the Herradura Hacienda in Amatitan, a
town adjacent to Tequila. There were three classes of seats on the train. We
selected the middle-class ticket which cost $2400 MXN pesos each, or about $125.

 We
Ubered to the train station, checked in and selected our seats. Even though we
had been told the train had been sold out, we had four comfortable seats and
a table to ourselves. There was a bar in our car, which was kept busy the whole
day.

Carlos, our bartender

Tequila on
the Train

We
were immediately served water, juice and a box breakfast. But once the train left
the station, at 10 in the morning, they switched to serving tequila-based
drinks. I can’t even remember what they all were or how many we had, but the
drinks were definitely flowing, including Margaritas, Tequila Sunrises, Horchatas
(a Mexican rice-based vanilla drink), White Russians, a coffee-based drink
called The Bull, and many more.


After
about 90 minutes or so of traveling amid a breathtaking landscape, including fields
upon fields of blue agave, we arrived in the tiny pueblo of Amatitan and
transferred onto buses for the short ride to the Hacienda 
Herradura. We got
into the English-language tour and were off.
The Tequila Volcano
Agave plants

The Tour
First
stop was walking by some blue agave plants, which we learned take 8 years to
mature to the point they could be used for tequila. Next, we watched a Jimador use
a coa (a wooden-handled cutting blade) to strip the leaves from the plant to get to the heart,
also called a pina because it resembles a pineapple, which is used in the
distillation process. 
The Jimador with his coa chopping off
the leaves of the blue agave plant
We saw the row of ovens where the pinas are baked. Next, they are squeezed repeatedly to get the agave juice, which is distilled and then fermented in giant barrels. The pulp is removed and used for other things such as candy and even furniture. 

The ovens

A pile of pinas

Tasting

Next
we walked through an ancient section of the facility that is no
longer used, and led to a tasting cellar. Tasting glasses were neatly laid out on
tables.


A bilingual talk was given on the “correct” way to drink tequila:
Swish the glass in a circle to check out the “legs” of the liquid. Breath in
the scent. Breath in through your nose, hold it, sip tequila onto your tongue.
Swallow. Breath out through your nose. Finally, emit an “Ahhh” and empty your
lungs. We started our tasting. To the best of my recollection, we tried 5. We
could taste the differences, particularly the smoothness, between the various categories
of tequila:
  • “Blanco”
    or “plata” is a white spirit, unaged and bottled or stored immediately
    after distillation, or aged less than two months in stainless steel or
    neutral oak barrels. It is used in cocktails.
  • “Reposado” is aged two
    months to a year in oak barrels of any size
  • “Añejo” aged one to  three
    years in small oak barrels
  • “Extra Añejo” is aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels.
 Our favorite was
reposado.

The Barrel Room

After the tasting,
we were led into a huge room in which they kept empty barrels in which tequila
had previously been aged. Herradura has a program where a restaurant or bar can
come to the distillery and purchase an entire barrel for $10,000 USD.
This yields 240 bottles at a per bottle price of $40. The distillery will then
customize bottles of the tequila from  the barrel for the purchaser, and the
purchaser gets to customize the top of the barrel.

Lunch … and more
Tequila

By this time we were
ravenous and finally made it to lunch, where we sat at a long table and they served us even more tequila. I sat next
to a guy from St. Louis who had been doing work in Las Vegas and on a whim
decided to fly down to Guadalajara for a few days. He knew a bit about tequila
and told me to ask for a specific high-quality tequila. I did. It was the good
stuff and very smooth. He was asking for them two glasses at a time. They
served a delicious lunch of chicken, potatoes and vegetables, and we were
entertained by a Mariachi band and some folkloric dancers.

Mariachi

Folkloric dancers

 Of course, we needed
a souvenir, so we went to the tequila stand they had conveniently set up and
purchased 950ml of one of the Reposados for about $25 USD. We had been told
that they would engrave our bottle for us, but unfortunately, the engraver
called in sick that day. That was probably a good thing; otherwise, it would
have been difficult to part with the engraved bottle and we definitely don’t
have room for it in the truck. (Later note: It does fit in the truck and we are
saving it.)

The Trip Home

It was time to go,
and we loaded onto the buses for the trip back to the train. Once on the train, the cocktails continued to flow until we arrived back in Guadalajara at around 8 PM.
To our complete surprise, neither one of us were feeling any effects of the
non-stop day of drinking, although there was one group on our train that was
definitely loud and raucous on the ride back.

Cocktails on the trip home
All in all, we had a
great day. It was pricey but the experience was worth it!