Thursday, October 10, 2013

Magical Mexican History Tours – Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende – August & September, 2013

We managed to visit only two of the many places in the state of Guanajuato we wanted to visit during our two-month stay in the state capital:  Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende.  Why only two?  Because we're just pokey . . .  Why these two?  Because both towns are important in the history of the conflict that eventually birthed the Mexican nation.  So we visited them in search of (a) knowledge of Mexican history and (b) good food – perhaps not always in that order. 

Dolores Hidalgo - August 11

We took a day trip to Dolores Hidalgo Cuna de la Independencia Nacional  (Dolores Hidalgo, Cradle of National Independence – the full name of the town today) to visit the site of the Grito de Dolores (“Cry of Dolores”), Father Miguel Hidalgo’s 1810 call for independence from Spain.  And to try the ice cream sold around the town square we had heard great things about. 

Our advice:  go for the church and the Hidalgo museum, and have an ice-cream if you get there.  The ice cream is good – but not so much better than the ice-cream in Guanajuato that you need to take a four-hour round trip bus-ride to try it.  Molly enjoyed the beso de angel flavor (“kiss of an angel” – candied fruit and vanilla).  Bryce, despite all the exotic options available, continued his quest for the world’s greatest vanilla ice cream (he says he's a "purist").  Neither of us was willing to try the famous shrimp or roasted cricket flavors . . . .

Worth the trip were:

  • a visit to the church from which Father Hidalgo issued his famous cry for independence from Spain:

BVM Detail on the Church
  •  seeing independence themed murals in the Presidencia Municipal and various statutes of the good father:

Throwing Off The Shackles

Dignified Even Though We Doubt He Wore A Toga . . .

Requisite Tourist Kitsch!

  •  and visiting Father Hidalgo’s home, which is now a lovely and very interesting museum.
With A Cool And Restful Courtyard

The museum helped us unravel a bit of the historical knot that is the independence movement in Mexico. 

[An Aside:  More Selective Information re: Mexican History According to the Crew of Abracadabra: As mission statements go, Father Hidalgo’s grito left a lot to be desired.  It wasn’t written down and history remembers it only as a general call to arms – something along the lines of: "Fight for freedom and kill the peninsulares (the term for the colony's Spaniards born in Spain)!"  As rousing as that cry might have been -- it lacks the well-reasoned and well-articulated tone of, say, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.]

San Miguel de Allende – September 6 – 9

Because of the tourist literature and reviews we had read and a good deal on a lovely little hotel we found on the internet, we decided to allocate three nights for our visit to San Miguel de Allende.  We're happy to report we found San Miguel well worth a visit – both as history nerds and lovers of food.   

That said, the maxim “it’s all about timing” proved only too true.  Over our four day visit San Miguel and its visitors experienced several bouts of pouring rain.  We used some of that time to visit indoor museums, some to sip very good coffee, and at least one wonderfully lazy period to honor the tradition of the siesta!  And even in the rain, San Miguel is charming. 

Our overarching impressions of San Miguel:  Guanajuato but with wider streets, fewer dog droppings, fewer noisy students and a lot more gringos.  Our teachers at Plateros Spanish Language School in Guanajuato teased us that we were going to San Miguel to improve our English! 

It’s a place to buy a lovely home, take art lessons and go to lunch with active retirees from Texas.  During one delicious lunch at a rooftop restaurant, as we looked around at all the well-toned, well-coiffed, well-accessorized, well-dressed and well-made-up women sipping wine with their salads, Molly felt compelled to remind Bryce that not too many of them looked like they would be willing to sacrifice their manicures to the operation of a sailboat [meeeow . . .]. 

Food:  The food is good in San Miguel.  For an advance celebration of Molly’s 60th birthday (a possible reason for the “meeeow” above?) we had dinner at The Restaurant.  The Restaurant deserves its name: it is THE restaurant that we’ve visited in the area that we thought could be airlifted to California and be right at home – food, wine and – sadly for us - price.  If you visit San Miguel, we’d say it’s worth the money.  Thanks for the tip, S/v Lanikai!

One of our favorite places was an accidental find, thanks to the pouring rain.  We ducked into a little corner restaurant -- La Cocina, Café Viajero (The Kitchen / Traveler’s Café) -- and had a very tasty breakfast.  It became our favorite low-key place during our trip.  And a peak into the kitchen shows, really, why wouldn’t it be? 

Prep Table

Busy Cooks

Really Fresh Ingredients (We Saw These Come Through The Door)

And a Beautiful Back Patio
 A bit more about food in San Miguel will appear soon on our Crew Reviews page.

Museo Casa Allende:  Like Father Hidalgo's home, General Ignacio Allende's house has also been made a museum.  This is a wonderful museum - well laid out and informative.  And one of the reasons it's worth a visit - particularly close in time to a visit to the museum honoring Father Hidalgo, is that the Museo Casa Allende gives an alternate view to the beginnings of the revolution to that presented at the Hidalgo house museum in Dolores.  For example, the museum administrators of San Miguel don’t think much of the good Father’s military skills . . .

[An Aside:  More Selective Information re: Mexican History According to the Crew of Abracadabra:  What we took away from this museum was the idea that these two very important figures in the movement for Mexican independence didn’t agree on what they were fighting for.  Allende was apparently fighting to establish a Mexican monarchy and Hidalgo wanted to do anti-slavery and empowerment of the mestizos stuff (empowerment as recognized in the 19th century, of course) and possibly establish some sort of democratic form of government. 

Neither of these guys lived long as revolutionaries -- they were both shot within nine months of their initial few victories -- and left behind very little in the way of a cohesive vision of what an independent Mexico would look like.  But even had they lived, their differences in vision didn’t bode well for the birth of a fully functioning nation-state.  Our takeaway was to think:  OMG, the U.S. had a good start in life.  Thank you Jefferson, Adams, Washington, and all those guys that slogged through the creation of the Constitution -- and the little women that supported them.]

Back to San Miguel:  Between the rain drops we enjoyed a lot about the town: 

The main focus of the historic center of San Miguel are the pink towers of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel:

The beautiful church faces onto the city's Jardin (central square).  And there is always something to see in or around the Jardin:


Weddings: The "Getaway Car"

Giant Katrina Puppets

Toy Sales Entrepreneurs

One night we watched Danzon, a Cuban practice of outdoor ballroom dancing.  People come by themselves or with a dance partner and dance to a wide variety of Latin rhythms - salsa . . . chacha . . .rhumba.  In the back of the crowd, we did the high school cling-n-sway . . .  and watch in envy those with talent and grace. 

In Full Swing

Taking A Break . . . Together
When it wasn't raining we enjoyed walking about town, and particularly enjoyed our visit to the Escuela de Bellas Artes, a beautiful building housing an art school and galleries.  Reading the course offerings at the school made living in San Miguel sound inviting.  For example, if you want to learn how to paint, or to make a violin – this may be a town for you.

The Musical Instruments Shop at the Escuela de Bellas Artes

We missed touring the local botanical gardens, which we had heard good things about (again, thanks S/v Lanikai!).  We arrived there to find a day-long hummingbird festival underway.  And as much as we love the speedy little things, we didn't want to spend $60 US to listen to lectures about hummingbird habitat.  See above re: restaurants . . . one must prioritize one’s travel dollars.  But our cab ride up the hill to the botanical gardens gave us the opportunity to have a pleasant walk back (down the hill!) to town.

Though as with every walk through a residential neighborhood, there's always the opportunity to see something that - well, you might not choose to do at your house . . .

Who Needs To Travel to See Olmec Statues???
Just Have One Installed In Your Condominium's Courtyard!

So, that’s our (too short for us) Tour de Mexican History.  We came away with a much greater understanding of the struggles Mexico continues to have addressing a vicious colonial past and a poorly conceived beginning – not to mention the 200 years of sketchy leadership in between. 

Next:  We'll post some pictures and thoughts about our annual R&R visit to our favorite B&B in Tlaquepaque and a day touring Guadalajara.  And yes – we’ll blog about being back in Mazatlán and about Abracadabra's "spa-treatment" soon!

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