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

Missing the US, Missing Mexico, Part 1

Now that we’re back in the United States for the summer, we’re experiencing a bit of a culture shock! We’re realizing there were a lot of things we missed about the US when we were living south of the border, and we’re delighted to get to experience them again.

But even more surprising – or perhaps not – is how many
things we miss about Mexico.
 
Enjoy our lists!
 
Things We Missed About
the United States
 
These are some of the things we missed about the U.S.
when we were living in Mexico:
 
·       English-language book stores (especially Barnes
& Noble)
·       Noodles & Company
·       Really good hamburgers
·       Brick oven pizza
·       Having white wine on restaurant menus
·       Lilacs
·       Yards and green grass
·       Being able to put toilet paper in the toilet
·       Being able to drink water from the faucet
·       Being able to brush our teeth with water from the faucet
·       Did we mention being able to drink water from the faucet?
·       Cheezit crackers
·       Toilet seats on public toilets
·       Toilet paper always available in public toilets
·       Being able to ride our road bikes
 
Things We Miss about Mexico
 
Here are a few things we miss about Mexico, now that
we’re back in the States:
 
·       Low prices for everything
·       Tlaquepaque, and the fact that there was always something free going on in Plaza Hidalgo
 
Ballot Foclorico in Plaza Hidalgo, Tlaquepaque
·       The incredible views of Guanajuato below and the eye-popping, jagged mountains beyond from every window at Casa Estrella
 
Guanajuato views
·       The fervent Roman Catholicism, including:
o   Gorgeous churches, basilicas and cathedrals, even in the humblest villages
o   Bloody Jesus statues and other curiosities inside churches
o   Parades to accompany statues of Nuestra Senora (our mother Mary) from church to church
o   Easter pageants, especially the bloody Jesuses carrying their crosses, accompanied by costumed throngs
 
The Virgin of Guadeloupe. She’s everywhere.
·       The food! Especially:
o   Nieve de garafa (fresh, hand-stirred ice cream made inside metal barrels, with
unconventional flavors such as tequila, elote and blackberry cheesecake)
o   Michoacan ice cream
o   Cuarto de Kilo (awesome Guadalajara hamburger chain with crispy, lemon-pepper-dusted French fries)
o   Pollo Pepe (great chicken place, also a chain)
o   Gus’s, our favorite the taco place in the basement of the mercado (market) in
Tlaquepaque
o   Mercado fruits, veggies, breads, and fresh chicken and fish
o   Valentina’s, our favorite pizza place in Tlaquepaque, with its rooftop garden
o   Cat-shaped bolillos (small loaves of bread) from Pasteleria Don Pedro
o   Amazing donuts everywhere in Guadalajara (who knew Mexico was such a big donut destination?)
o   Mexican street food, especially elote (corn) and chayote (a unique Mexican squash) with queso y crema (cheese and a uniquely Mexican thick cream), then doused with salsa. The lonches (meat sandwiches), tacos and fresh-made potato chips were also excellent.
 
Elote in Tlaquepaque
o   Pasteles (cake) and pan de elote (corn bread) from La Petit Plaisir, the French bakery across the street from the Guadalajara Language Center
o   Chocomilk in any restaurant, which is a refreshingly frothy, blended confection
o   Cremax cookies 
o   Raspadas (shave ice with fresh fruit and syrup)
 
Raspada Frambuesa (raspberry)

·       The drinks! Especially:

o   Horchatas and horchata fresas (a rice and cinnamon drink, sometimes accompanied by strawberries)
o   Aguas frescas (fresh water with the essence of fruit, including mandarin oranges and jamaica, a therapeutic flower)
o   Tequila and mescal
o   Mexican craft beer
o   Limonada (lemonade)
 
Horchata fresa and tacos in the Tonala mercado
·       The sounds! Especially:
o   Mariachi music
o   Church bells
o   Crowing roosters (who expected to miss this sound?)
o   The song played by the Zeta Gas truck (“Zeta, Zeta, Zeta Gas!”)
o   “Agu-AA!” yelled by the Pura water garafon (jug) delivery man
o   The daily jangling bell of the trashmen
·       Atlas FC Futbol (soccer)
·       Lucha Libre (wrestiling)
·       Adorable roof dogs
·       Waiters never rushing us and always waiting for us to ask for the check
·       The weather (warm days and cool nights, with the occasional dramatic downpour but not a speck of snow)
·       Speaking Spanish all the time
 
Got this shot into the goal at an Atlas futbol game
Next up … Part 2: Things We Won’t Miss About Mexico

Casa Estrella: Our Hillside Home in Guanajuato

It’s a shame we ever stayed at Casa Estrella: We will never be happy anywhere else again.

Thanks, Donna

My friend Donna Bryson recommended we spend time in the World Heritage city of Guanajuato, where she and her family enjoyed a vacation a couple years ago. Since Donna was my favorite partner in exploration when were young, single and living in NYC, I trusted her advice and we decided to visit for five weeks or so on our way north from Tlaquepaque.
 
Lodging proved to be a little bit of a challenge, though.
Guanajuato is a colorful, astonishingly well-preserved city of 150,000 with narrow cobblestone alleys and winding underground tunnels carved out of rock, neither of which was very welcoming to our wide black Tacoma Toyota truck. Hotels and apartments in El Centro (the historic center) don’t have convenient parking, if any at all, and guests have to navigate narrow, steep  pedestrian walkways to get to their entrances – hardly practical when you have as many possessions as us, in addition to
three cats and two bikes.
 
So we widened the search beyond Guanajuato City, and ended up at Casa Estrella Vacation Rental Homes in Valenciana, a village about two kilometers up the mountain from Guanajuato. And although it would have been nice to be able to step out of our lodging right onto one of Guanajuato’s nine plazas and walk a block or two to a restaurant, Casa Estrella offered unique benefits that made it the perfect choice for us.
 

Car- Friendly

 Casa Estrella was one of the only places to stay in Guanajuato that offered secure parking for the truck, though because of the hillside location, getting the vehicle out the couple of times we used it was a spine-tingling tight, logistical challenge. So once we parked the Tacoma, we left it to collect dust, and used buses, cabs or Uber to get around. Buses only cost 7 pesos (37 cents) a ride, and Uber or a cab cost 60-70 pesos ($3.65-$4.20) per ride. 
 
Once we got down into Guanajuato, we used our feet for transportation.

Pet-Friendly

The staff at Casa Estrella happily welcomed our three cats and considered them part of our family. And the cats loved our two-bedroom apartment, Casa Estrellita, from the moment we opened their traveling cages and released them from their travel confinement. Ellie swiftly took over a round blue chair in the living room, though all three cats alternated through at one time or another. Kaylee liked to hang out high up on the second-floor landing, regally surveying her domain. Noxy ambled from bed to bed, and eventually befriended a corner chair in the dining room. He managed to escape one day when the cleaning crew came, and relished the opportunity to amble around the little courtyard below our apartment before coming back to our door and waiting for someone to notice he had been gone.
 
Kaylee
Equinox and the Monk statue
Smoitie in the kitchen

One day, Casa Estrella’s resident cat Toby, who was the spitting image of our old cat Jiji  who died in 2012) except for a scarred right eye, came to the door and meowed loudly, as though asking our cats to come out and play. Lex and I did just that, hanging out on the stairs petting Toby for a long time. Toby belonged to Inge, a Dutch retiree who  dispensed wellness advice, astrology readings, and essential oils from her little apartment across from the fountain below us. The cats never met him.

People- Friendly

 We knew Casa Estrella was going to be people-friendly from the moment we parked our car. First, the manager, Javier Salazar, greeted us warmly. Then three male staffers swooped upon the truck and rapidly carried all of our heavy suitcases, duffle bags, musical instruments, and other assorted paraphernalia up the stairs to our apartment before we even had a moment to breathe. What service! By the time we could blink our eyes, our stuff was in our rooms and we were ready to settle in. 

Casa Estrellita

Our two-bedroom apartment, Casa Estrellita, was absolutely stunning. With a warm pallet of many-shaded oranges and royal blue, with bright pink accents, its warm glow enveloped us. The dining room had a bar with a wine rack in one corner, and a domed brick ceiling with a chandelier hanging over the handmade round wooden table. A newly-constructed breakfast patio overlooked the city of Guanajuato below and awe-inspiring mountains beyond (and Javier brought a lounge chair when he saw how much I enjoyed spending time there reading).  
 
My favorite breakfast spot

The kitchen was large and well stocked. The dinnerware consisted of individually crafted, hand-painted ceramic plates, bowls and mugs from the local Gorky Gonzalez Pottery Studio. The rest of the house was also filled with decorative pottery – on shelves, walls, the bar, along the steps and even on the fireplace mantle—from Gorky Gonzalez, Mayolica Pottery of Santa Rosa, and other local artists.

 
Both bedrooms, on the second floor, were generous, with sliding doors and balconies showcasing the incredible view of Guanajuato and the mountains. Beds had heavy, hand-carved headboards.  The master bedroom even had a fireplace and a changing room, and the master bath had a sunken jetted tub, which Aryk enjoyed, and a hand-painted sink, which Noxy occasionally napped in. 
 
Master bedroom with fireplace
The volume and quantity of the artwork throughout the apartment made my jaw drop daily. A brightly-painted, skeletal, smiling Catrina statue stood inside the front door, next to a small painting of a Lucha Libre warrior. A handcrafted wooden monk statue looked down from a lighted alcove at the bottom of the wide stairway. There were painted ceramic serving platters, a full-length copper lamp, a basket crucifix over the bed in the master bedroom, a Diego Rivera print in the main hallway, hand-woven rugs, and tapestries.

Catrina
 
Mayolica

Mayolica
 

Diego Rivera print

The Grounds

 And beyond our apartment, there was so much more to explore and enjoy! Casa Estrella’s public space was beautiful and comfortable, with leather couches, a huge solid wood dining table with a tile-covered wall over the banquet, a large covered deck, even a big double-kitchen for use by guests staying in rooms without kitchen facilities. (Casa Estrella also provided a delicious, healthy daily breakfast for an additional fee, consisting of yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, tamales, and coffee.)
 
Yoga with Blanca
Beyond the main building, there was a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi. Down the steps, the Fiesta Fitness Room offered an elliptical, complete weight set, free weights, Bosu, exercise ball, barre and more, as well as a large patio for weekly outdoor yoga classes (by Blanca of Casa Quatro in Guanajuato) offering the mountain view as the perfect “dristy.” There was also a spa room for massages, a botanical garden, a tennis court, an RV park with a beautiful bathroom and shower, an organic garden, and other public spaces.
 

Wellness

 I mention all these things because Casa Estrella’s focus is on wellness, and I left feeling so relaxed and serene. Javier, the manager and concierge, gave us exceptional service to made us feel truly pampered. If you ever decide to visit Guanajuato, you can learn more about Casa Estrella here. Tell Javier that Lisa sent you!
 
Saying goodbye to Javier., the manager and concierge at Casa Estrella.
Hasta luego!
By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

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.

Cristo Rey: The Heart of Mexico

Today we traveled to the corazon (heart) of Mexico to see the iconic statue of Cristo Rey. This imposing bronze statue of Christ the King, 75 feet tall and rising 8,461 feet above sea level at Mexico’s geographical center, looms from atop a mountain above the town of Silao called El Cubillo
del Cubilete.


Cristo Rey

Cristo Rey
 

The monumental Christ of the Mountain was created in art deco style by artist Nicholas Mariscal in 1944 to honor the struggle of Christians during a period of religious persecution in the early 1900s. 

In the words of former Mexican President Vicente Fox, the statue serves as a “rebuke to the suppressors of religious freedom” who sought to quash the Church during the persecution of Christians in Mexico during the first half of the twentieth century.

A smaller previous monument was dynamited in 1928 by the anti-religious (and particularly anti-Catholic) regime of President Plutarco Elías Calles, as part of his mission to kill Christian rebels and destroy all Christian symbols during the nation’s critical “Cristero War” when state atheism was enforced.  (Source: Wikipedia)

A Holy Shrine for Mexicans

Few Americans have even heard of Cristo Rey and El Cubillo del Cubilete, but to Mexicans, this is a holy place where many make a pilgrimage. At the foot of the statue is basilica in the shape of a globe where pilgrims visit throughout the year, especially in November, when Catholics celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. This elegant sanctuary, with its enormous crown of thorns encircling the ceiling and its gold-coated crown in the center, is one of the most visited churches in Mexico. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t stroll through it and take pictures because I was wearing shorts, which are
forbidden attire in the sanctuary.)
 
Sanctuary
Crown of thorns
 
Golden crown for Christ the King

Incredible Vistas

 
The 360-degree panoramic view from the base of the monument is truly spectacular. Guanajuato is having an extremely dry May, and we could see a number of forest fires in the distant mountains. In fact, on the drive to the shrine, we came within a few feet of one. Learn more

Side Trips

On the way, we stopped to eat lunch on the covered veranda of a beautiful hacienda surrounded by grape vines called Jesus Maria, which served up wonderful wine, pasta, salads and seafood. 
 
Our family and Javier enjoying dinner
We also visited the village of La Luz, where we stopped into the fascinating, ancient church named Maria de la Luz.
 
 
Maria de la Luz
 
Because this is a big mining region, the crucifix had miners’ helmets, tools and rocks at its base.
 

Thank you, Javier!

 
The tour was conducted by Javier Salazar, general manager of Casa Estrella Wellness Center, where we are staying. He made for a very knowledgeable and sometimes devilishly funny tour guide! 

By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

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!

Discovering Leon, Mexico

Whoever heard of Leon? Hardly anyone outside of Mexico, I’d wager.

But when we were thwarted from reaching our destination, Tlaquepaque, by a government crackdown on fuel thieves that dried up all the gas stations, we decided to detour to the closest city on our route, Leon, and explore for a few days instead of worrying about gas. So we booked a tiny, pet-friendly two-bedroom apartment ($213 for a week) and set about researching Leon.

We knew nothing about this city, but Bob consulted Mr. Google and quickly Bob discovered that Leon is the fourth largest city in Mexico! The hotel we stayed in our first night while we grappled with how to deal with the gas problem, Hotel Soleil Business Class, was in a great location on a major thoroughfare directly across from a park and sports center, and right on the bus line.

I found a great little description at Trip101.com:

León is known as the“shoe capital of the world” and shopping for leather goods is one of the main attractions here. León has a long history as a center of the leather industry, offering shoes, boots, belts, jackets, and other leather accessories not only in Mexico, but around the world. It has first-class services and hotels making it one of the most important cities in Mexico along with León’s entertainment, restaurants, leisure activities, arts, and recreation. It is also considered one of the most environmentally friendly cities in Mexico and has a high number of cyclists, in part because of integrating a network of bike lanes into the public transportation system. In March 2012 it received an award as “City Water Champion,” due to great progress it has made in the areas of sanitation, wastewater reuse, and energy cogeneration from biogas.

While much of León is industrial, it is also a great little authentic Mexican city. There is a nice, large pedestrian area in the center, which comes to life at night with street sellers, music, and Mexican families just enjoying their city. Also, León is a great place to escape if you’re a budget traveler, unless you’re in the market for a lot of leather.

We discovered Leon has several notable cathedrals, an Arch of Triumph, a grand boulevard (think Champs Elysees, only smaller scale), and a charming historic center.

Arch of Triumph

So after settling ourselves and our cats into our new apartment and taking care of food shopping, we got up the second morning and called an Uber to take us to the Arco Triunfal de la Calzada de los Heroes (the Triumphal Arch of the Causeway of Heroes).

The lion on top represents the pride and symbol of the strength of the Leonian people. The leafy grand boulevard runs 500 meters and has bronze statues of eight heroes. We agreed it would be a fabulous place to run.

The Nativity Show


We then walked up the causeway toward the old city and, across the street from the Templo Expiatorio Diocesano del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus), we stumbled upon the Muestra Nacimiento, or Nativity Show, a temporary display of Nativity scenes from around the world. Admission was free and it was closing the next day, so we went inside, where we were greeted by a smiling nun. This display was a feast! There were small, large and humongous dioramas from Italy, Spain, Germany, Russia, and all over Mexico. We loved it! Here are a few highlights:


Wooden carved nativity from Oberammergau, germany
Mexican style
The lighted sky bedazzled

Martyr’s Square and the Plaza


After visiting another amazing cathedral next to Pope Benedict Square, and wandering around the old streets in Centro Historico, we enjoyed take-out tacos and agua tamarinda (orange water; OMG, what a discovery, and the entire meal cost $2) in a shady plaza next to Martyr’s Square, the central plaza in the old city. We enjoyed awesome ice cream and wandered on to our next discovery of the day: Mercado Aldama.




Mercado Aldama


I daresay no other gringo has ever wandered into Mercado Aldama, a massive indoor marketplace in a huge industrial building just beyond the old city. And they are missing out! Everything was for sale in this bustling, authentically Mexican, three-story marketplace, from shoes to clothing to sombreros to every kind of food you could imagine (and some you wouldn’t want to imagine), traditional Mexican clothing, arts and crafts, housewares, utensils, fruits, meats (including intestines, hooves and other animal body parts I found quite unappealing but Mexicans apparently love) and much, much more! I’ll let the pictures tell the story.


Mmm, delicious

Please don’t eat me! he says

Baby Jesus come in a variety of sizes,
with long eyelashes as standard equipment

A kids’ booth

Countless super-cheap restaurants featured authentic cuisine

Frida Kahlo shows up on everything


Love Bridge

On the way home, we stopped at the Puente del Amor and secured a lock of love on the bridge. Watch for a future blog about the locks of love we have put in a number of cities and countries!