Real de Catorce–on video!

The Tripps keep documenting their Mexican adventures–this time, they take us along (through to the magic of YouTube) to Real de Catorce, a breathtaking Pueblo Mágico 4 hours from Saltillo.

If you haven’t been to Real de Catorce, what are you waiting for?

Or, if you’re not convinced yet, let’s go with Hannah and Doren!

 

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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!

Escape to Aguascalientes

Since we had a long weekend for Constitution Day the first weekend of February, we decided to get out of town.  Go somewhere new.  Get off the Highway 57 corridor.  *gasp!*

Our destination?  Aguascalientes.

My husband visited Aguascalientes when he was young.  He saw his first bullfight there, so the city has long held a special place in his heart.  It´s a well-preserved, colonial city that we´ve been meaning to visit for years.  The bullrings called his attention.  The hot water in its name called mine.  Finally, we had time to explore Aguascalientes.

It´s a five-to-six-hour drive to Aguascalientes from Saltillo.  Head towards Zacatecas and then follow signs to Aguascalientes.  It´s a long, uneventful drive.  Don´t do it at night, and keep your gas tank full, as the gas stations are far and few between.  There might be one about every 40 minutes.  Of course, don´t drive at night.

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We reserved rooms at the Gran Hotel Alameda.  It´s farther out of town than we usually prefer to stay, but the hotel description intrigued us.  It gave us hope that they had a hot tub.  We were wrong.  However, they have an excellent attached restaurant.  The service, both in the hotel and restaurant was impeccable.  And, had we been there on a warmer weekend, we would have taken advantage of their pool and been temped to pretend that the Gran Hotel Alameda was a resort.  It would have been easy not to have left the hotel.

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But we did.  After all, we came to explore Aguascalientes.

After an amazing spread at the hotel´s breakfast buffet, we drove downtown, ready to explore.  Parking is plentiful at the Expo San Marcos, with an entrance under a bridge on Adolfo Lopez Mateos–unless the fair is going on.  If you come for the fair, stay right downtown and don´t get in your car again until it´s time to leave town.

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This fair is the nationally renowned Feria San Marcos.  It takes place from mid-April to mid-May, and you need to have hotel reservations at least a year in advance.  Bullfights and beer appear to be the name of the game.  To our disappointment, we missed a bullfight on Saturday night and were not able to stay late enough on Monday to see one then.  However, we wandered the outside of the big bullring, and were able to wander inside a much smaller one.

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To our kids´relief, Aguascalientes has an excellent playground right outside of the big San Marcos bullring.  After they ran off their energy, we dragged them through the Andador J. Pani, a complex of bars and restaurants that I´m sure are hopping when the fair is going on.  In fact, the longer we stayed, it looked like they pulled in a reasonable business on a long weekend in February.

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We could have walked all the way downtown, to appreciate historical Aguascalientes, but our kids´legs and attitudes demanded that we move the car closer to downtown.   Like San Luis Potosí, Aguascalientes has always been an important connection between northern Mexico and Mexico City.  Its strategic position between Zacatecas’s  silver mines and Mexico City made it an important stopping place for wealthy silver caravans headed to Mexico City.  The downtown area has various museums and is very walkable.

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However, what called my attention were two bars on Venustiano Carranza.  Peeking in, I noticed a large display of microbrews, many of them from Mexico!  Given that microbreweries have taken off like wildfire in the US in the decade or two, I´ve been sorely disappointed that Mexico´s beer is still dominated by two or three huge companies.  If you´re equally sad about that, Aguascalientes has the locally-brewed solution for you!  In fact, from the briefest of searches, it seems that they have a couple of breweries.  My next trip there may just be called, “The Aguascalientes Beer Quest”.  I will certainly revisit Bon Apetit and the Beer Botique and pick the staffs´ heads about the Aguascalientes beer scene.

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Monday morning dawned cloudy and cold with a very real chance for rain.  However, we were determined to check out the hot springs at Ojocaliente, just across the street from the hotel.  As it was a national holiday, and we had to make that five-hour drive back home before dark, we were the first to hit the hot springs.

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Now, when one thinks of hot springs, one usually thinks of sitting out, under the sun, in gloriously warm, naturally heated water, right?  Not the case here.  Ojocaliente has a number of private, enclosed pools that are rented by the hour.  Open the tap, steamy water begins pouring into the tub, and a half hour later, it is filled to capacity.  When the water starts to lose a bit of heat as time passes, open the spout again, and let the steamy warmth pour on your head, down your shoulders.  Bliss.
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For extra enjoyment, take breaks from the hot tub.  Run to the shower provided in the private room, stand under the cold water (yes, not for the faint of heart), tighten up all those muscles, and then immerse yourself back in the hot tub.  They´re big enough for one or two people to float on their backs at a time.  If you have more time than we had, they also offer massages for an extra price.  And they don´t mind at all if you add bath salts to the water–in fact, they´ll be happy to sell you some when you rent your hour.

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I don´t know how crowded Ojocaliente might get during Semana Santa, when everyone has vacation.  But on a cold, rainy day in early February, we just about had the place to ourselves.  And yes, this is a child-friendly establishment.  They have play equipment at one end of the interior courtyard, sell floaties for anyone who would like to purchase them, and the water is not too hot for little peoples´ sensitive skin.

We had one more excellent meal at the Gran Hotel Alameda.  With cream of olive soup, grilled lamb and roasted salmon on the menu, why would we eat anywhere else?

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That long weekend was just long enough to convince me that I need to see more of Aguascalientes.

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Exploring the Bullring at Plaza San Marcos
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Not only was the hotel´s breakfast buffet one of the best I have ever experienced, they had a hangover table at the end of it! Menudo and beer, to cure your Saturday night overindulgence.
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Feria San Marcos is from the 17th of April to the 10th of May–book a hotel well in advance!