Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vive Puebla! Dia dos.


We woke up to a rainy, overcast day.  Typical morning that we've had since we've been here.  With luck, the sun will be out by mid-morning.

Despite the fact that none of us got to sleep til very late because the *party* that is the night life around the zócalo didn't die down til the wee hours of early morning, we were raring to go!


We each took our turn getting ready for the day and then it was down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  Another buffet place but this one didn't have as nice a selection as our hotel in Mexico City did.


It was Ayşe's first breakfast in Mexico so there was some explaining to do.  As a Muslim, Ayşe doesn't eat pork so it was hard to find stuff for her to eat.  In Mexico, even eggs are scrambled with ham in them.  For her first breakfast, she kept to familiar foods.  Notice her plate has a pancake, two grapes and a cup of soup.  (Sorry I can't explain the soup.)


Hopefully, she'll start to get accustomed to the food here and she'll eat more than a bird does.  If not, she's going to miss out on a great culinary adventure and she's going to go home a skeleton!

It was a quick breakfast.  We didn't have a specific itinerary in plan today - just explore the city was we felt like it except we would try and make sure to see the major sights.

Our day in the city begins.  We started with the Palacio Municipal which is at the end of the block that our hotel is on.  In front of this government municipal building was a large bronze sculpture of the streets of the city's historic center.  Of course, we had no difficulty pinpointing where we were standing.


The Municipal Palace was not yet open so we couldn't enter inside to check it out.  So, instead we crossed the street.  It was still fairly in the day so the zócalo was pretty empty which was a perfect opportunity to be able to take a closer look at the fountain which was surrounded by people the day before.  It's a beautiful little fountain and you can tell, it's very well taken care of.


We walked to the Basilica and the doors were open but there was a service going on inside so we couldn't enter.  We'll have to come back later on the afternoon.







Next, it was back to Calle Cinco de Mayo.  One of the admirable things that Puebla does for its blind residents and visitors is that the street signs, which are all displayed at *head* height, are also in Braille.








 









The ginormous balloons were being taken back to their spots to stand for the day :-)















As we walked along Calle 5 de Mayo, Ayşe suddenly stopped dead in her tracks when she saw a familiar sight - the large stack of thinly sliced meat being cooked in front of a charcoal fire. I had to break the news to her that what she knows as lamb doner kebab is pork tacos al pastor. Same concept, different meat.  We all wondered if there was either a beef or lamb version.  No matter the meat, tacos al pastor is mighty tasty.





We walked past the Santo Domingo church and I told the other two that we had to visit it later in the day.  Must see.

Candy time.  We continued walking.  Ayşe wanted to go to the market so that's where we were heading.  Just as we got near the side street that led to the covered shopping mall that bro and I had been to yesterday, I noticed that we were at the intersection of Calles 5 de Mayo and 6 Oriente which is also known as Calle de Santa Clara or as the locals refer to it as, "Calle de los Dulces".  Forget going to market.  We're headed down this street instead and it was another lined with Crayola crayon colored buildings.  So pretty.

Where to next after Calle de los Dulces?  My brother had read there was an artisan's market, Mercado El Parian, nearby so with some directional instructions from a local resident, we headed off.







Puebla is a town full of churches.  You can only pass by so many before you feel the need to step inside one.  Our first church, yes there were others to come was the Iglesia San Chárbel.  A pretty little church sitting on a street corner.  We headed to the front entrance.  The interior was, if there is such a thing as this, appropriately ornate.  Not too simple, not overdone, just right. 












Just inside the front door was another rack of ribbons which I have now come to think of as prayers.  In this case, they were prayers to Saint Charbel.











 

Later on I learned that the church is dedicated to a priest of the Maronite Christian order. The Maronite order is not a common order in Mexico - there are only about 1/2 million followers.  The church in Puebla is named after Charbel Youssef Mahklouf who was born in Lebanon in 1828.  He devoted his priestly life to performing miracles and healings all around the world including Mexico.  For his devotion to God, he was beatified in 1965 and canonized in 1977.

From the church, we continued our walk towards El Parian.  Before we even got to the market, we heard the music....the easy listening kind that you play if you are having company over for brunch on Sunday.   Music for relaxation.  I decided to check out the store.  The other two followed.  At the end, I decided to not buy a CD; Ayşe walked out with two!

Pretty much the entire street block was occupied by store after store selling the famed Talavera pottery of Puebla.  So pretty and so many plates, bowls, serving dishes, tiles, even bathroom sinks and water dispensers.  Too much for me to handle.   It all started to, very quickly, look the same.

Artisans market, or so we thought.  Not knowing exactly what the El Parian market looks like, we strained to find something that would identify it.  Of course, we overlooked the obvious - a sign :-)


The market turned out to be a small city square occupied pretty much by souvenir shops.  Nothing any one of us was interested in.  Feeling a little disappointed, bro opened up his Mexico guide book and discovered that there was a special store that we should go to if we wanted to buy good quality Talavera versus what we were seeing on the streets.  So, he asked around.  No one had ever heard of the place he was mentioning.  Oh well.  Disappointment number 2.

Lunch! So, what do you do to cure the disappointment blues? You eat! :-)

We were definitely in a touristy part of town and somehow, we had stumbled onto restaurant row.  Or at least we had come to that place where waiters stand outside and wave menus at you to try and entice you to go inside.

By now, the sun was out and it was just too picture perfect a day to eat inside so we found a restaurant that offered the best of both worlds.  Tables inside but no doors or  walls to obstruct the view of the street.  It was a colorful room and had a very homey feel to it.  Nice, relaxing atmosphere for a lunch break.  That and the kitchen opened out to the dining room and the cooks were all women and the food was bubbling away in large unglazed terracotta pots.  That's how cooking is done in Mexico; this should be good.




It's all about the mole.  We got seated and as was quickly becoming our meal time challenge, deciphering the menu.  This is the land of mole ("mo-lay") so I told the other two to consider ordering a dish.  I wasn't hungry so I was just going to share a dish with my brother.











We placed our orders and as we waited for our food to arrive, were pleasantly distracted by some young kids.  With the approving nod of an adult standing nearby, I offered up some Tootsie Roll pops to the boys.  The older ones set theirs aside while the finished up their chores.








Awww.... The l'il guy, well, he couldn't wait.  In the split second of an eye blink, he got the wrapper off and was happily licking his treat.  Watching him enjoying his lollipop, he was just too cute for words. 


In due time, our chicken mole arrived.  One drumstick and a thigh smothered in mole with a small serving of Mexican rice on the side. 


Oh so good.  The mole sauce was thick, slightly sweet and tasted nutty.  Unfortunately, my palate is not refined enough to distinguish all the individual spices in the sauce.  All I know is that it went perfectly well with the chicken.  There was a small bowlful of tortillas to sop up the sauce with.  I only wish that I had been a tad bit hungrier.  I would have been happy just eating tortillas soaked with that luscious sauce!

For our dessert, we tried the camotes we had bought from the store on Calle de los Dulces.  I picked the strawberry flavored camote and tore off a small piece.  I was fully expecting to taste strawberry but all I tasted was sweet potato.   Even the texture of the candy was that of sweet potato.  Okay, I tried it and in all honesty, I can say that it's not my favorite sweet.  Neither of the other two particularly enjoyed it either.  I decided it must either be an acquired taste or we weren't tasting good quality camotes.   I don't think we ever ate any more.

Retail therapy.  After lunch, we did a bit of shopping.  I walked away from one store with a lamp shade for a ceiling lamp; it was made of Talavera pottery.  The shade is going to replace the ye olde generic one that I have from Home Depot hanging in my home office.  And from another store, I bought a Mexican folk art piece - a wood angel mask.  I don't care what anyone else says, I think he's a cute angel :-)

I made a vow this would be all the shopping I would do in Mexico.  Hope I can keep my word.

Well, I now have two things that I have to lug with me around Mexico.  But for now, I have to lug them around for the rest of our day in Puebla.

Back out the streets, we decided we should just make our way to the market or else we would never make it.

Another church stop :-) 


We found our way back to Calle 5 de Mayo and from there, recalled our steps yesterday.  Inside the mall, while I went and got money from the ATM machine, bro went inside a department store in search of a Men's Room.

The mercado, at last! Break over, we walked on, passed the seafood vendors and the outdoor produce vendors and made our way inside the covered market.  Even though it was a Sunday, the market was doing a brisk business.  It was Ayşe's first visit to the market and it was like was a kid in a candy store.  As a person who loves to cook, everything in the market was interesting to Ayşe.




She stopped in front of a large stand of dried chilies and gasped in awe at the sight.  She had to take a picture for her mother.  Apparently, they share a love for chilies and she was certain her mother would be in awe of the large variety of chilies they have in Mexico. I told her there's no other country in the world with as many varieties as they have in Mexico. Chili is king here.




Is there such a thing as too much fruit? The mangoes also called out to Ayşe.  The fruits here are ripe when they are sold - no need for them to sit around on a counter top and ripen.  Over ripe fruit is often sold at a discount.  I read somewhere that those are often bought to be juiced.

With the Fruit Obsessed One helping out, we found settled on buying fruit from these two young women as they had the best selection of fruit that looked like it was perfectly ripe.  They were such friendly girls   and when I asked if I could take a picture, the older of the two flashed a huge smile exposing her beautiful dimples. 


Time to head back to the hotel.  This time around, we didn't retrace our steps. Somehow, we got sidetracked :-)








At one point, we ended up on a street that was filled with toy stores.  Every store was stuffed to brim with toys of all kinds and all sizes.  Every kid's dream place to be.













Another church break.  We were quickly coming to the realization that there are a lot of churches in Puebla.  Felt like one every block.  Amazingly enough, they are all well marked with informational plaques.  Puebla takes its UNESCO World Heritage site status very seriously.






This one was the Templo de San Juan de Dios.  I loved the cheery yellow interior with it's splashes of pink and mustard yellow.  The altar was white and gold.  and there was a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling.  It all looked like a very elegant room in a mansion.






Mango, anyone?  Back to walking but we didn't get far.  No surprise.  This time we took a break so bro could cut a mango.  Yep, it was a fruit break :-)  The knife he bought yesterday finally came into use.


He cut up two of the mangoes that he had bought yesterday.  Normally, I'm not much of a mango fan because I don't like the fibrous strands that run through the flesh of so mangoes I've eaten. The flesh of this one though was smooth as silk and it was super sweet.

I have to admit, the mango was a nice snack to have and the view wasn't bad either.  We were sitting in front of another church (surprise, surprise) where there was a festival of sorts going on :-)

There wasn't a line outside so I walked in and just inside the front entrance portal area there was a short line waiting to enter into the main part of the church.  The parishioners were carrying flowers.  Obviously, I wasn't as prepared so I decided to head back outside.

After our snack, we continued on our path back to the hotel.  Whoever said that Mexico is the place for street food lovers was not kidding.  There is food either being prepared or sold everywhere you go and every which way you turn.  No sooner had we left our mango snack place that we walked by two places, located pretty much side by side, that on another day could have provided a meal for us - fried potatoes from one spot, a meat taco or two from the other :-)  





One more.....

And what would are walk be if we didn't come across another church? This one was closed.  I think we were all secretly glad it was otherwise we would have all felt obligated to at least walk up and take a peek inside.





Iglesia Santo Domingo.  Eventually, we did make our way back to Calle 5 de Mayo and we took another rest stop at a small park.  As my brother says, we have to pace ourselves otherwise, we won't last the day.

This time, instead of walking by the  Santo Domingo Church, we went inside.  Had the other two resisted, I would have forced them inside because this is a "must see" landmark in Puebla.

Monks of the Dominican order arrived into Puebla in 1526.  In 1534, they constructed a temporary church structure on the same site as the current church.  Formally known as the Templo Conventual de San Miguel Arcángel (Santo Domingo de Guzmán), the permanent church was built starting in 1571 and completed in 1611.

Santo Domingo church doesn't look like much on the outside and if not for the fact that it's bright red in color, you might be tempted to just walk on by.  And if you did do that, you would be missing out on something very special on the inside.

Passing through the front doors, we were greeted by the most lavish of church interiors I have see so far!!  It's the kind of experience where the moment you see it for the first time, the only reaction you have is to just exclaim "WOW!"


The altar. This one rivals the altar in Taxco!  Unbelievable workmanship!   At least 18 different carved and painted plaster statues positioned on ornately carved gold leaf painted pedestals.


We sat down to admire the altar....and to rest our feet.  But, this is not why people come to visit this church.  It's real treasure lies just to the left of the altar, the Capilla del Rosario (Chapel of the Rosary).



It is, by most accounts, one of the most elaborately decorated Baroque chapels in all of Mexico.  You just gasp in awe when first enter in to it and look around!!  The walls and dome were completely coated with ornate sculpture in gold leaf and plaster, including saints, cherubs, and dancing angels.


The church conducts tours of the chapel and there was a small group inside when we entered in.  The tour was just coming to an end so we waited for the crowd to thin out a bit before we walked all the way in.  Directly opposite the door was the altar.  Another splendid work of art in gold leaf and plaster!


There is not an inch of ceiling that was not decorated.  Thanks to a zoom lens, I was able to capture the image so I could have a closer look at the detail.  Just amazing! 


I always wonder how artisans, back in those days created these works of art on ceilings.  They must have been lying on their backs, on scaffolding way up high, plaster and gold leaf dust falling all over their faces.  Except for windows around the dome, there was no other natural light coming into the room.  They would have had to work under some pretty poor lighting conditions.  And yet, they were able to create this beauty.  The residents of Puebla are so fortunate to have this spectacular church in their city.

Time for a break.  We didn't stick around for a tour of the chapel.  It was getting late in the afternoon and we had to move on.  We decided to first head back to our room and dump our stuff.  My brother and Ayşe had been lugging around their fruit purchases and I had my Talavera lamp shade and wood angel.



As we neared our hotel, we could hear the sound of drums and men singing.  There, on the street, just a few feet from the entrance to the hotel was a group four drummers fronted by a woman twirling.  Another set of street performers.  There's so much life in this town; can't be bored even for a second.





Back at the room, we threw open the doors, pulled the loveseat close to the balcony and sat outside to soak in the afternoon sun and watch the world go by.  Bro whipped out the fruits and we ate, chatted, laughed and had just relaxed.  It was wonderful!








It was a picture perfect day and could you possibly get a better view of the Basilica than this?

I shot a video of our view from the balcony - the basilica bells were pealing and the air was filled with joy.  I just had to preserve that moment on video.


Ayşe decided she wanted to take a picture of my brother and I standing on the balcony.  That led to another round of photo taking - we can't just take one! :-)




Break over.  There was still sunlight so that meant our day was not over yet.  After are break, we headed back outside. 

From the other side of the street, I had to look back and take a photo of the Palacio Municipal which looked its best at this time of day.  Its gray facade is constructed of cantera stone which is a volcanic stone that is commonly found in this part of Mexico.





I had been promised that we would get to see the Basilica before we left so that's where we headed.  I was determined to see the place!  There was another small troupe of clowns performing in the plaza that lies alongside the Basilica.






Elegant beauty.  The front doors of the Basilica were open so we walked inside.  It was an elegant interior and the pews were filling up with parishioners.  The afternoon sun filtered in through the windows high up and transformed the color of the gray stone walls and white dome ceilings to shades of pink and blue.  The ordinarily cold interior of a church felt very warm and inviting.


The organ started up and shortly after that I felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was church docent telling me that services were about to begin and so we had to stop taking photos.  *sigh*  Seeing the Basilica was just something that was not meant to be for me:-(  Maybe I'll get to come back someday.

In the meantime, we actually sat down for a few minutes but quietly left shortly after service got underway.

Do you speak English? We walked back through the zócalo and took a seat on a bench to people watch. As we were chatting, a group of young people approached us.  Stumbling for words here and they, they told us, in English, that they were university students and as part of one of their course assignments, they needed to interview people in order to practice their English.  They asked us if we would be willing to answer a few questions.  Of course, we were!!  One of the women pulled out a notebook and read off a set of pre-scripted questions.  They were pretty much the ones that tourists get asked all the time.  But, asking pre-written questions is really no way to learn another language so we decided to ask them questions instead so they could practice giving unscripted answers.  Of course, as with anyone learning a new language, there was some struggling for words, a few mistakes made here and there and a lot of giggling. We all had a lot of fun interacting with them!  Overall, I gave them an A+ for effort.  I don't know that I would have the nerve to walk up to strangers and practice speaking in whatever language they're fluent in.   Before they left, there was a photo op - we're on at least two cellphones somewhere in Puebla :-)

As day turns to night.  After the students left, we continued our people watching.....until the rain drops started to fall.  Before the skies could fully open up and unleash a downpour, we headed to the shelter of the umbrellas that front the row of restaurants that occupy one side of the square.  We decided we might as well go ahead and have dinner.

As has been typical of the weather here, the afternoon rainstorm lasts but a few minutes and then the sun reappears and life in the square resumes.

One last place to go.  By the time we finished dinner, the sun had long set.  After we paid our bill, we decided to head back to the hotel.  On the way, we passed the Palacio Municipal and decided to go on in.

By now, it was about 9:30pm and so there was not much time left to see the place before it closed.  The guide directed us to go up the stairs. Of course, I was busy snapping photos.  When we got up the stairs, the doors to the front rooms were open and that's where bro and Ayşe, who were obviously paying attention to the directions they had been given, headed.  I was too busy with my camera glued to my face so that by the time I was ready to join them, the doors had closed.  I tried to turn the knobs but for some strange reason, or perhaps good reason, the doors were locked and so I was stuck hanging outside.  No worries though.  Gave me the excuse to take more photos :-)


So, when they emerged from the room, I asked them what was inside and from their description, I didn't miss much.  This is a working government building after all, not an art museum.

  
Back outside, we headed across the street to the zócalo and our last encounter of the night was with the Living Statue who I described as looking like the Grim Reaper.  That was a memorable bit of entertainment for 3 pesos.

By now, it was about 10 pm and we had pretty much been out since 10am.  We were rapidly getting tired. Our tour officially begins tomorrow so we need to pack up our stuff and get a good night's rest.











Before we headed inside, we all took pictures of the Basilica at night, lit up and looking very pretty.

It's been an activity packed two day visit to Puebla.  It was much too short a time to see and enjoy this city but we all loved every minute that we were here.

There was so many things that we didn't get to see so maybe we all need to return some day.

So, it will be a bittersweet departure for us tomorrow - sad to be leaving Puebla behind but excited to see the other places and experiences that await us!

Adiós Puebla!