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

We Made it to Tlaquepaque!

We finally made it to Tlaquepaque!

Our 6-day trip from Pennsylvania to this village just south of Guadalajara where we planned to spend our first four months in Mexico ended up taking 14 days, but we finally arrived on Jen. 19 – exactly four months after we left Colorado.

On the Friday of our week in Leon, Lisa and I decided to bite the bullet and try to get gas so we could continue on to Tlaquepaque. (If you recall, we were only in Leon because we couldn’t get enough gas to get to our final destination, Tlaquepaque.) We were determined to wait all day if necessary. A few days earlier, we had been told that the Leon government website listed stations that would be receiving gasoline that night or the following morning. We looked at it and saw only 20 stations (for a city of 1.5M people) getting gas. Our observations supported this, as we would see lines at only 1 of 10 or 12 gas stations we passed as we Ubered around town. And the lines were long.

And even though we kept hearing the situation was going to get better, it didn’t. So we enjoyed Leon and ignored the gas situation for a few days. Why stress over it?

But on Friday, Lisa read in the Mexico News Daily that a pipeline was opening to Leon on Saturday, and the number of stations pumping was supposed to increase to 35%.  Lisa wanted to get to Tlaquepaque, so we decided to give it a shot.

The Early Bird Gets the Gas

So we got up before 6, gathered books, tables, drinks and snacks to entertain us during an anticipated long wait. and drove to the nearest gas station. There wasn’t a line, but that was because they weren’t pumping. We continued down the road and saw a line several blocks long for another station. As we drove by, we saw that they were pumping gas. We tried to make a u-turn to get to that station on a side road, but we were unsuccessful, being forced to take a long way onto a highway and wasting 10 precious miles worth of gas in the process.

When we doubled back we spotted another gas station that was also pumping, with a shorter line, so we got in line. Lisa and I discussed that we really needed at least 600 pesos worth of gas to get to Tlaquepaque, but stations were limiting sales to 500 pesos per car. We agreed that 700 pesos would provide a bit of a margin of error if we got lost. Finally, we discussed what we needed to say to the attendant, in Spanish, to attempt to get that 700 pesos worth of gas.

The early morning line for gas

The line moved quickly and we were soon at the pump. Lisa hopped out and told him that we were trying to get to Tlaquepaque, where our house was, and 500 pesos wouldn’t be enough to make it. Could he help? He told us that all he was allowed to give us was 500 pesos. But nonetheless, he pumped 600 pesos, looking furtively in both directions to make sure no one noticed. Then, in an act of compassion, he reset the pump and pumped us full with another 550 pesos of gas! We were ecstatic! And, of course, we tipped him generously.

Made it to the pump in just 15 minutes

Success — a full tank!

A Full Tank, But Locked Out

In our wildest dreams, we had never even considered that this would be the outcome. We had our Leon Airbnb rented for another day, but on the short drive home, we decided that we would pack and head to Tlaquepaque as soon as we could get packed up. later that day. We did have one small glitch: We only hade one set of keys for the apartment, which were inside with Lexie, and she was sound asleep. It could be hours before she rose. Her phone ringer was off so we could not reach her.  outside the complex gate for half an hour or so, Lisa got the idea to contact the woman who rented to us, and our host quickly brought us a second set of keys that allowed us to get in, get Lexie up and start packing. Instead of waiting in a gas line, we ended up waiting an hour and a half to get back into our apartment!

Finally On The Road

We were on the road for our 2½ trip by 11 AM. About 1½ hours into our trip, closer to Guadalajara, I thought that it might be a good idea to fill up again. However, from that point on, almost all gas stations didn’t have gas and the one or two open ones we saw had huge lines. So when we arrived at our rented house in Tlaquepaque, we parked the truck with 5/8 of a tank and decided to use walking, public transportation or Uber until the situation is stabilized here.

But, we’re here and getting settled in. We’ve essentially been traveling for four months since we left Colorado, so it feels so good to be settled for a while!

Our new home!

Leon Zoo

Entering the Leon Zoo was like walking into a ghost town. I associate zoos with noise and scents and crowds of people, but we seemed to be the only people there as we bought our tickets and headed in.
Our first stop was the safari, and we knew we were in for a spectacular visit. Climbing into a rickety open-air vehicle, we set off on what turned out to be a series of close and personal encounters with the animals. We were driven into crowds of Watusi and zebras, raced with antelopes, the car serving as the only barrier between us.
We walked around the rest of the zoo on foot, and it was the most unique zoo experience that I can remember. Though it was unnerving at first to have so much space to ourselves, the peace and quiet created a kind of intimacy between us and the animals that I’ve never experienced before.

On safari
We could almost touch the Watusi

The monkeys were one of the highlights. They swung around their cages using their hands, feet, and tails, movements so smooth they looked effortless. One hung out the side, arms stretched through the gaps of the fence to pluck leaves from the bushes outside for a midday snack.
He’s reaching out
It was strange to see elk in a zoo, as they’re such a common sight in Colorado, but we nonetheless watched them mull about. A lynx meowed at me, as if to make to for my lack of cuddles from Ellie that morning. Even big cats trot around, lick their paws, and make cute noises.

See her cute little tongue?
It was simply a wonderful trip all-around, and I definitely suggest you pop by if you’re ever in Leon.

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!

Gas Crisis in Mexico

We didn’t make it to Tlaquepaque! We literally ran out of gas. 
Well, we didn’t completely run out of gas, but we did get low enough on gas to not have enough make it to Tlaquepaque, and we couldn’t find any more.

Why No Gas?

Mexico has what are called huachicoleros, or gas thieves. The initial image that comes to mind is someone with a 5-gallon container and a hose that siphons gas out of cars. But in Mexico, the issue is far, far bigger, to the tune of $3B USD a year in stolen gas. And it’s not stolen from cars, it’s siphoned right out of the large gas pipelines that distribute the product from refineries to various points in the country. 
The gas is stolen by the cartels in a very systematic, almost professional manner. Tapping these lines, with flammable gas running through them, is a dangerous process, and can only be done by extremely skilled people. The government says over 12,000 taps have been put into the gas distribution pipelines. 
 

Sad, empty gas station

A Government Crackdown

This has been going on for years, but Mexico’s new, anti-corruption president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, took office last month and started cracking down. He decided to fight the huachicoleros by stopping the distribution of gas through the pipelines, identifying the taps and then more vigorously guarding those lines. The plan was to replace pipeline distribution with distribution by tanker truck.
Unfortunately, that distribution plan has failed to meet the needs of the population, leaving some areas, mostly central Mexico — where we are — with a gas shortage (actually a distribution shortage).
We knew about this 10 days ago before we left Pennsylvania. Fully aware that we were heading into the area hardest hit by the shortages, we thought that surely the kinks in the distribution system would be worked out by the time we got to Mexico, especially after we were delayed another two days at the border.
Our trip through northern Mexico was uneventful and there was plenty of gas. There was even plenty of gas in Matehuala, six hours in, where we stopped overnight and easily gassed up the next morning. We knew that one tank of gas wouldn’t get us to Tlaquepaque, so we wanted to go far enough before stopping to ensure we had enough in the tank to make it the rest of the way. 
Unfortunately, when it came time to stop, first there weren’t any gas stations for miles, and then the next one we found didn’t have any gas. Its gas nozzles were just lying on the pavement, and a long line of cars idled a half mile back along the roadside. We drove 40 miles to the next town where there was a possibility of finding gas, but none of the five gas stations there had gas either. 

Choosing a Detour

So we were faced with a decision, and discussed it while looking at a map of Mexico: continue on toward Tlaquepaque and hope we could find gas, or turn left and take a detour toward the closest city, Leon, where we could find pet-friendly lodging and hope to find gas. We chose the Leon option, not wanting to chance being stranded on a roadside with three cats.
We found the Hotel Soleil Business Class, an affordable, pet-friendly three-star hotel, and walked down the street to a gas station that didn’t have any gas. The attendant told us he wasn’t scheduled to get gas for 4 more days.
We knew we had a problem, so we went and booked a two-bedroom Airbnb apartment in Leon for a week iand decided to make lemonade out of lemons.

Making Lemonade

Leon wasn’t on our initial list of places to visit, but it has turned out to be a wonderful discovery! There’s lots to see and do here, the cats like the apartment, and we are really enjoying our stay.  
Meanwhile, we’re monitoring the gas situation online. We have seen a few open gas stations with long lines, and have heard about people waiting four or six hours or more for gas, and then coming away with only a few pesos worth (because of 500-peso limits, about $28US), or not getting gas at all. We are not “line” people.
We are not getting in that line
 At some point, when the situation improves, we’ll get in what should be shorter lines, only when we can get enough gas to make it all the way to Tlaquepaque. And then we’ll move on to our next adventure.
In the meantime, join us in exploring Leon!

Unemployment in Mexico

Lisa and I walked around the center of Leon yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. Leon is not an American tourist destination. English signage was non-existent. Almost no one spoke English. But we thoroughly enjoyed the old town of Mexico’s fourth most populous city and got a very authentic Mexican experience.
It’s hard to describe what my expectations were with regard to moving to Mexico, but I was completely surprised by one thing I noticed yesterday – the numerous signs on stores looking for workers. We must have passed at least 5 stores with “Help Wanted” signs. While America currently has low unemployment, I certainly didn’t expect Mexico to have the same. Yet, when I looked up unemployment statistics, I discovered that the Mexican national unemployment rate for the 3rd quarter 2018 was 3.5%.
Help Wanted: Cleaners


Healthy Employment Picture

I’m not going to try and make a direct comparison to the US unemployment rate, as they are most likely measured differently, but it does support my anecdotal evidence that employment is good in Mexico. (Wages are another thing though). Here in Leon, the rate is a bit higher at 4.5%, but it does look like jobs are available.
Even after having been in Mexico numerous times in the past, and not just in tourist spots, I wouldn’t have expected this. This just continues to reinforce to me that there is much I, and Americans in general, don’t really know about Mexico.

Help Wanted


Thriving Economy

I think people in the U.S. have the impression that Mexicans are lazy, that there is high unemployment in the country, and that the economy is poor. We experienced quite the opposite. In addition to the many Help Wanted signs, we were in a thriving business zone with hard-working professional people. Customer service was attentive, and we didn’t see a single empty business space or “For Rent” sign.