I've stayed at the Hotel Regente in Mexico City on a number of occasions in the past, Bruce being with me the last time. It's a small hotel in a very convenient location near the Monumento del Revolution near Insurgentes and close to all the tourist meccas. In spite of its great location, it's very inexpensive (we paid $60 CDN that included an excellent breakfast buffet). As we headed for breakfast in the am, I ran into Raul who used to be senior desk clerk and is now manager there and he very nicely remembered and welcomed me. There's been a change at the Regente, however: this nice little clean, friendly hotel has become a victim of its own success. There were busloads of people lined up for breakfast, but we were moved along very quickly and efficiently and, once seated, we weren't rushed out of there. The tourists, however, were on a mission and ate and left quickly. I'm happy for the Hotel's success, but sorry for the loss of how it used to be for me.
We're travelling on to San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato State)this morning - no sightseeing in Mexico City for us as we have too tight a schedule this time. As we boarded our ETN bus at Terminal Norte, we were handed our little snack bags (a sandwich and cold drink of choice) and were comfortably stretched out in our huge sleeper-style seats on the bus (only 3 across - 2 on one side of the aisle and one on the other and 28 seats in total) when the bus departed dead on time at 10am. I had bought our tickets on line directly from the ETN website before leaving Canada and it was a smooth operation. Each seat had a personal entertainment centre with headphones (in a nice, cellophane bag) and individual remote controls. There were two clean, well-equipped washrooms at the back of the bus and a self-serve coffee station. (Greyhound Canada could take some lessons from the services down here!) I love bus travel in Mexico!
We arrived in San Miguel de Allende at 2pm, and took a taxi up to a very warm, wet welcome at our friends' beautiful house that has a spectacular view over the town. The warm part of the welcome came from our friends, the warm, WET part came from their huge, sloppy, lovable doberman, Waldo. It didn't take long before I noticed that Bruce was calling Waldo 'Ben' however, and it took me a moment to realize what was going on. Waldo is three years old and 'speaks' Spanish (although his English is coming along now that he has new English-speaking owners) so Gerry was calling him to 'come' in Spanish, which is 'ven' (pronounced 'Ben' so Bruce thought he was calling him 'Ben'. :) It didn't make any difference to Waldo: he came to Bruce every time he called him 'Ben'.
Our stay in San Miguel de Allende was way too short. I love this town - and not because I am an artist or a writer, or anything like that - I'm not. It just feels like 'home' to me, having lived here on and off for 4 1/2 years. I am very comfortable here, although radical changes are taking place. There's a shiny new mall on the outskirts of town that includes an Office Depot, no less, and there is house construction and road improvements all over the place. The Centro area is still the same, however, and, with so little time available to us, that is where Bruce and I hung out.
We had a lovely dinner with our hosts at a place called Hecho en Mexico on Ancha de San Antonio the first night. It's gringo food with Mexican options and everything was excellent - it was a great choice. Afterwards, three of us went for a drink at a bar called the Azotea, which is a rooftop, outdoor place on Calle Umaran in Centro that has lovely views across lower San Miguel de Allende. It was just the place for Bruce and me, rather than going to an inside location, after coming from our West Coast Canadian winter climate.
With only one day to play with in San Miguel, we headed into Centro to hang out and just be there. We had a coffee sitting under the arches on one corner of the Jardin (you can do that on one of three corners - the fourth has a bank with a popular ATM machine), and we just watched life go by. Bruce's trick knee is sure giving him problems so we couldn't do as much walking as is really necessary to see San Miguel. That's okay - we soaked up some ambiance and I availed myself of the best shoe cleaning service in the world right there on the corner of the Jardin. The man must have used about 7 different products on my shoes and they looked like new when he was done - all for only about $1.25 CDN (It's $10 at Vancouver airport and the guy uses all kinds of machines - this guy does pure artisan work!) As we strolled the Jardin afterwards, who should I see getting his shoes cleaned on the opposite corner but my old nemesis: David, the sort-of gardener/handyman I used to employ. He did a double take on spotting me and looked a bit shifty (he helped himself to a larger severance package from among my posssessions when I was finally able to rid myself of the lazy so and so) but I smiled pleasantly at him and seemed to relax but still looked a little wary. I mean, what else am I going to do ten years after the fact?
We then trekked around a bit looking for some art supplies for our friend who lives out on the coast (La Manzanilla) who we are going to see there. I had a long chat with the owner of one of the art supply stores (who had done a lot of picture framing for me in the past) and he said he is wrapping up the art supply side of his business because so few of the people are coming to SMA now who used to be his customers. Many of those were people from Texas who would drive down and stay the winter and they are not now crossing the border, out of fear for what is going on in border towns. That certainly explained how quiet the town is. There was a distinct absence of people sitting around in the Jardin, whereas in the past it was THE place to see and be seen in the mornings (with definite 'rules'): gringos on the north side facing the Parroquia, Mexicans on the south side :) The coffee shops were also very quiet. Apparently, the usual hot topic (house renovations and house sales) is a bit of a dirty word at the moment, as absolutely nothing is moving. My observation is that on the Mexican side of things there seemed to be a lot of development: roadworks and a new courthouse and a new bridge, etc. so, hopefully, the Mexican infrastructure will withstand the downturn in gringo home development.
We met a good friend for lunch, Roger, who has been wintering in SMA for a quite a lot of years now. We walked down to Juan's Cafe on Reloj where we had excellent salads and picked up a supply of academy award winning movies to take with us to the coast (courtesy of Juan's entrepreneurial inclinations). Afterwards we walked back to Roger's pleasant apartment in Centro, where he gave us a real treasure to take with us: a supply of his homemade marmalade, both orange and lemon, which is virtually unobtainable in Mexico. All jam is called mermelade here but it's generally strawberry or peach, so this was a real gift. Thank you Roger!
When we got back to the house where we are staying, Stuart and Gerry's house manager, Jose, had been doing some leg-work for us and had located a terrific art supply place in the Guadalupe area just behind Calzada de la Luz where we would be able to buy the kind of paint brushes that our artist friend (who is also our cycling friend) wanted. Gerry drove us down there, giving us also a tour of the further reaches of town.
That evening Stuart and Gerry took us to another excellent cafe, an Italian place on a back street in the San Antonio area. They make all their own pasta there and Bruce indulged in a very rare event - he had a pizza which he never eats, unless the crust is really thin and crispy - it was! Stuart and Gerry have, once again, been wonderful hosts!