Wandering Arteaga

 

Arteaga

Our Pueblo Mágico next door.

We’ve all been there.  And this is what it looks like:

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At least, on a Sunday, this is what Arteaga looks like.

For those who haven’t been to Arteaga (on a Sunday), there’s a pretty large market that sets up all over Arteaga’s Alameda every Sunday.  Go early, because parking is a pain mid-afternoon!

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La Colmena Candy Store off the Alameda–open during the week, too!

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The other day–a THURSDAY MORNING–(who goes to Arteaga on a Thursday morning?)  this is what it looked like:

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Shhhh . . . it’s very quiet here on a weekday!
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Maybe too quiet for some . . .

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La Llorona, carved into a tree.     La Llorona is legendary all over Mexico for having killed her children after her husband was unfaithful to her.

 

 

But I love Arteaga when it’s quiet!

Plus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are some restaurants open during the week.

I also ventured off the Alameda and found the Plaza de Armas.  It’s another tree-lined square, with the mayor’s office on one end and the elementary school on the other.

Another block away (behind the elementary school) was Arteaga’s main church, San Isidro Labrador.  His feast day is the 15th of May.  So when the kiddies don’t have school for Teacher’s Day, swing by Arteaga–I bet these few blocks will be rockin’!

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Don Arteaga himself.  This plaque was terribly unhelpful, but it seems that he was a war hero when the French invaded (and took over) Mexico in the 1860s.
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Arteaga in season

 

Here’s a gorgeous video from Televisa, highlighting the town (and county) much better than I can!

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Parras de la Fuente

Parras.jpg When I´m itching to get out of town, Parras de la Fuente is my easy getaway of choice.  Only two hours from Saltillo, it makes for a great daytrip.  Sometimes it´s nice to stay for a whole weekend, too.

Parras is officially recognized as a Pueblo Magico by the federal government.  This means that the town is charming, has some attractions, is graffiti-free, and often gets crowded on weekends and during Holy Week.  Crowds do abound over Holy Week, particularly Easter weekend, but on average weekends it´s a quiet, charming place to visit.  However, if one plans to stay overnight, make reservations ahead of time, especially during the warmer months.   There are only 4 hotels in town, and they can fill up quickly.

What is there to do in Parras?376

  • Casa Madero–the oldest winery in the Americas.  Casa Madero is the main reason my family frequents Parras as often as we do.  Often we go all the way to Parras with the sole purpose of bringing home a case of wine.  While Casa Madero´s bodega doesn´t offer tastings, they do offer tours with very knowledgeable guides.  They explain the wine-making process, from growing the grapes, juicing them, and the fermentation process.  They also distill brandy on the property, and include the distillery on the tour.

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    Touring Casa Madero

As wine tastings are not provided at Casa Madero, which wines should one buy there?  (Given the expectation that everyone would want to take a bottle, or five, home with them, of course.)  Honestly, I haven´t had a bad wine from Casa Madero.  My favorite is their merlot.  The chardonnay and cabernet suavingnon are also very good.

 

  •   Estanquillo de la Luz–Parras boasts a number of reservoirs for 384public swimming.  This is the only one I´ve tried.  But I love it so much, I may never try another!  The 9-foot deep, crystal-clear, chemical-free pool would make a beautiful setting for the Olympic games, with the church on the hill, Santo Madero, towering majestically over the reservoir.

Entrance to the reservoir is 203insanely affordable, a mere $15 for adults.  We like to live it up and rent a palapa for the day, so we have some shade, benches to sit on, a table to use, and a grill.  That sets us back a whole $50 for the day.  They do charge for parking, but the lot is locked, and again, the price is negligable.  They also charge for bathrooms, but that´s also about $3.  Despite all the nickle-and-diming, it´s a very affordable day away!

They rent innertubes and life jackets, and, for those who don´t bring food to grill, there is a little store stocked with chips, candy, and gorditas.  Beer is permitted as long as it´s not in glass bottles.  For little kids who don´t swim well, there is a playground area and a kiddie pool with slides.  The kiddie pool can get very slippery, but even after some spectacular falls on the painted concrete, my kids still love it.

When I want to pretend that I´m at a resort, but not pay a resort price tag, this is the place to go!

  • La Casona–my favorite restaurant in Parras.  But, much like Estanquillo de la Luz, this is just about the only restaurant we´ve ever tried in Parras.  It´s such a winner, we feel no need to try anywhere else.

We go for their carne asadas.  They do have tables inside, but it´s much more enjoyable to sit outside in the patio, to listen to the sizzle of the grill and smell the smoke when the wind blows in the wrong direction.  Just order a package that includes various cuts of beef, frijoles charros, and guacamole.  They´ll happily provide as many tortillas as necessary.  My family has spent many delicious afternoons there.

 

More

While in Parras, stop at one of the many candy stores.  Parras is known for their pecan-based and milk based candies.  I stock up on canelones, a milk candy that´s covered in powdered cinnamon.  My sister-in-law is always in search of ate de membrillo.  Most candy stores also stock dessert licqueurs that are made in town or elsewhere in the region.

Most people also climb to the top of Santo Madero, the church that is on the top of the hill, which overlooks the whole town (it´s hard to miss!).  However, I tend to spend too much time letting the fish nibble on my toes at the reservoir, so I´ve never been to the top of Santo Madero.  One of these days . . .

Some weekends, people set up stalls in the Plaza del Reloj and sell handicrafts, candy, and hippie jewelry.  The tourism secretary also runs a sight-seeing trolley, which I believe leaves from that plaza, too.  The trolley is another one of those things that I´d like to do, but still haven´t done there.

Thank goodness Parras is so close!  Because I will certainly get back there and have the chance to check out all I´ve failed to do yet.

 

Casa Madero, Parras, Coahuila
Wine maturing at Casa Madero.

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Where is Parras?

Smack between Saltillo and Torreón.  Take the highway going to Torreón, and get off at the Parras exit.  Easy peasy.

Where is Casa Madero?

Once you´ve turned off the highway, you´ve got about 15 minutes to go to reach the town of Parras.  Casa Madero is about halfway between the highway and Parras.  As the road passes through some vineyards, you´ll see white walls with a white gate just before the road curves left.  That´s Casa Madero.

Where is Estanquillo de la Luz?

Upon entering Parras, the road all but dead ends.  The center of Parras is to the right.  Keep on that road until just about the end of town.  There should be some signs, but when it looks like you´re just about out of town, turn left.  The road should go pretty sharply uphill, and the Estanquillo de la Luz is at the top.  (I´ll get better directions the next time I go.)

Where is La Casona?

The main plaza is Plaza del Reloj.  Walk to the backside of the church on this plaza, and you should see another plaza, one with a kiosk.  Facing the kiosk with the church behind you (there will be another church on the left side of the plaza from this direction), turn right, walk down the street, and La Casona will be on the left.  A hotel is across the street from La Casona.  Sta. Isabel, I believe?

Exploring Monterrey with Kids

 

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In Mexico, all schools take a two week vacation on Holy Week and the week following. Those with jobs—apart from the tourism industry—have vacation the Thursday and Friday before Easter. All over Mexico, everyone who can heads to the beach. Or the mountains, or the ranches—anywhere to get away.774b

Like everyone else, my family wanted a vacation. However, we hate
fighting crowds. Where is the best place to go
when everyone flocks to the beach? The cities. Over the course of these few days, Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey suddenly become uncongested, smog-free, cultural wonderlands.

While planning our Monterrey getaway, we had to keep in mind four different vacation styles. My husband hates crowds. I love to wander, preferably around a museum. My six-year-old daughter hates wandering. In her ideal vacation, she would never leave the     hotel´s pool. My three-year-old is usually up for anything, but (even though he doesn´t think so) he often needs a nap.

Given these realities, our choice of hotel was crucial. We chose the Holiday Inn at Parque Fundidora. It is within the gates of the park, which is an attraction in itself. So if the rest of my family wanted to be pool lizards, I could be free to wander. For a city that gets plenty of sun, Monterrey´s hotels have shockingly few outdoor pools. According to the internet, this hotel´s outdoor pool was the prettiest, and that sealed the deal for us.

Now, once there, what to do?

Parque Fundidora

IMG_2118Monterrey is fiercely proud of its industry, and this park showcases that industrial pride well. Parque Fundidora (Foundry Park, in English) is built on the site of a former steel foundry. Part of the original foundry has been converted into a museum. It´s a sight when lit up at night. Take advantage of their nighttime tours!

This park comes alive when the sun goes down. Each of the three evenings we were there, we spent about an hour wandering the park. Watch out for bicyclists—just $30 pesos rents a bike for an hour, and hundreds of people prefer to tour the park by bike. There are playgrounds for the kids spread throughout the park, bounce houses aplenty, a giant ferris wheel, and a small lake that rents paddle boats. As if Parque Fundidora didn´t have enough attractions of its own, the entrance to Plaza Sesamo, a Sesame Street-themed amusement park, borders Parque Fundidora. Plaza Sesamo would have taken the better part of a day itself, and was unfortunately not on our agenda this time around.

Paseo Santa Lucía

IMG_2004The Paseo Santa Lucía connects     Monterrey´s downtown with Fundidora Park, thanks to a blue canal, wide sidewalks, and grassy embankments. From one end to the other, it stretches for about 2km, with fountains and playgrounds interspersed. Closer to downtown, restaurants have tables right on the canal.

The best way to get downtown from Parque Fundidora (or vice versa) is to hop a ride on one of the boats that leave frequently from one end or the other. The ride each way takes about a half hour—so much easier than the hours it would take my kids´ legs to walk the same distance! At Parque Fundidora, the boats dock just behind the Holiday Inn. At the Macroplaza, take a flight of stairs underneath the Northeast Mexican history museum, and you can´t miss the dock—and the line that goes with it! Don´t worry, it moves fairly quickly.IMG_2095

Macroplaza

The boat ride ends at the Macroplaza. All Mexican cities have one main plaza, typically spanning one square city block. Monterrey´s Macroplaza is aptly named. While it is the standard one block wide, the Macroplaza is 5 blocks long. It boasts the Northeastern Mexican History Museum, the entrance to the Paseo Santa Lucía, the Government Palace (and connected museum), the City Theater, various courthouses, Monterrey´s cathedral, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
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We took about an hour to walk from one end of the Macroplaza to the other. While my husband and I thought this was a great way to pass an afternoon, the kids were not so amused. A little more than halfway to the cathedral, we stopped for popsicles, sat in the grass under a tree, and watched the traffic. This maneuver bought us a bit more patience on the kids´ part, so we could enjoy the cathedral and the Museum of Contemporary Art, relatively whine-free.

Cathedral

IMG_2076On the far side of the Macroplaza from the Paseo Santa Lucía is Monterrey´s cathedral. People from Monterrey have a tradition of visiting seven different churches during Holy Week. Despite our aversion to crowds, we joined the throngs pouring into the cathedral. The wooden latticework around the side doors give a nod to   Monterrey´s Lebanese population, and the murals around the altar manage to incorporate both Monterrey´s industrial pride and biblical Holy Week scenes—it´s odd, yet distinctive. To me, that mural seemed to sum up the city´s essence.

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Right next to the cathedral is Monterrey´s Museum of Contemporary Art (MARCO). With
only three galleries, the MARCO was a great size for our kids to enjoy the museum without getting overwhelmed. With changing exhibits, there is something for everyone. The guys spent at least an hour in the Stanley Kubrick exhibit, while my daughter and I enjoyed Kati Horne´s photography, checked out the permanent display upstairs, and, of course, the gift shop while waiting for the guys.

Dinner

Almost opposite the cathedral, we spied a small franchise of our favorite restaurant in Monterrey—the Sierra Madre Brewing Company. They brew an extensive selection of quality beer. Microbrews are far and few in between in Mexico. Now that we´ve found one, we frequent it as often as possible. Despite labeling themselves a pub, they are family-friendly and offer a children´s menu.

Day Two

Hotel Pool

Day Two was dedicated entirely to swimming in the hotel´s pool. This was essential to our trip, because797

1) Mexicans believe that it is absolutely necessary to get wet at some point on the day before Easter.
2) after walking their legs off the day before, my kids would have gone on strike if we    didn´t spend a full day at the pool.

Once we had our fill of the pool (and the other children and their poorly-aimed squirt guns), we explored Parque Fundidora some more, in search of bounce houses and nachos.

Day Three

Planetario Alfa

050The Alfa Planetarium is Monterrey´s Children´s Museum. They boast four floors of exhibits for all age levels, plus a prehispanic sculpture garden (unusual this far north), and an IMAX screen, playing two different movies a day. While the kids were initially excited about the idea of a children´s museum, it took them awhile to warm up to the activities. The second floor had a Tinker-Toy exhibit, and they did have fun playing with the Tinker-Toys, although the exhibit wasn´t as hands-on as I would have hoped. Upstairs, they had a room dedicated to Clifford the Big Red Dog. I was afraid this would be too babyish for my six-year-old, but they jumped right in, and worked the store, drove a boat, fed Clifford enormous bones, and sat down a read a few books. They would have been content to spend all afternoon there.034

My husband got a little overwhelmed with the Easter crowds, so we met up with him again in the prehispanic sculpture garden. The Planetarium does have a cafeteria, but we brought a picnic lunch and ate outside on the picnic tables (which get hot in the sun!). After lunch, we braved a few more rooms, but they were geared for older kids, so we breezed through those. After paying one last visit to Clifford, we headed home.

Did we exhaust our options? Not even close. We´ll certainly be back, and on other visits, we may see:

  • Bioparque Estrella—a safari-style zoo about an hour outside of Monterrey. They also offer camping, either in tents or cabins!
  • KidZania—A kid-sized city. Children work various jobs, open a bank account, and spend the money they “earned” at those jobs. I´ve been told that it´s a lot of fun, but it´s on the pricy side, so be prepared!
  • Grutas de García—a system of glittering caves just northwest of Monterrey.
  • Cumbres National Park—full of hiking opportunities, plus some intense outdoor activities for families with older children.

What are some of your favorite things to do in Monterrey? Feel free to comment below!

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Furthermore, if anyone else in or near the Saltillo area would like to share their favorite places in or near Saltillo, send your reflections/thoughts/summary, along with pictures to saltilloexpats@gmail.com.  I look forward to hearing others´ perspectives!

Apple Season in Los Lirios

 

IMG_1177  Despite being surrounded by desert, Saltillo is officially labeled a temperate zone (according to information at the Desert Museum).  This temperate zone extends into the neighboring county of Arteaga, making it a perfect area for apple orchards.  Have you noticed the huge crates of “Saltillo apples” at HEB?  Yep, they´re from Arteaga.  In this part of the country, it´s tough to get produce more locally grown than that!

IMG_1185  For an afternoon excursion out of town, consider Los Lirios, smack in the middle of apple country.  It´s about a half hour outside of Saltillo.  The drive itself makes the trip worthwhile, winding through the pine-covered mountains, skirting orchard-strewn valleys.

IMG_1183  There´s not much to the town of Los Lirios, but there are crates of apples for sale on every corner–honey, too.  The streets are narrow and more people drive through the town on the weekends than those streets were meant to handle.  So drive with patience.  Or, better yet, park and walk around.

100_5195  Restaurants seem pretty nonexistent in Los Lirios.  But they certainly have plenty of corner stores, so a light picnic lunch is easily found.  To be sure of a hearty meal, stop at one of the cabrito stands in the town of Arteaga first, before getting on the highway.

Enjoy the quiet, enjoy the views, enjoy the apples.

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How does one find Los Lirios?

From Saltillo, take Fundadores out of town, towards Arteaga.  Keep heading east, past Arteaga (unless you decide to stop for cabrito, of course).  Head south on Highway 57, toward Mexico City.  After maybe 5km, take the exit to Los Lirios (watch out for northbound traffic on 57 when exiting).  Then meander through the valley for about 23 km.  Los Lirios is about 5 streets big, but the road goes straight through town, so it´s hard to miss.

If you continue on the road (turning left when the road dead ends in town), that will take you to the Cliffs of Insanity and (much farther along) to Cola de Caballo.  Those are also great trips, but deserve their own post.

 

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Photo disclaimer:  while orchards are easily seen from the road, the orchard owners are not likely to be happy about random tourists wandering through their orchards.  We were invited to a friend´s orchard last week, which is why I was able to take the orchard pictures.