Packing it in once again, this third day in Puebla began with breakfast once again at Hotel Royalty (yes, we like it) and then a stroll around the Zocalo toward the Museo Amparo. I had arranged with our taxi driver earlier this morning to pick us up at the Zocalo at 1 p.m. and take us to Cholula where there is an archeological site and some remarkable churches. The Museo Amparo has an outstanding pre-Hispanic art collection, stone carvings, Mayan stele, ceramics, jewelry, funerary objects, and traditional European 17th and 18th century home furnishings fitting the Spanish nobility that settled the city. A lovely gift shop of Mexican handcrafts, a coffee shop/cafe, and a retail shop for Talavera de la Reyna that makes produces some of the highest quality pottery in town can also be found. A Diego Rivera portrait of Sra. Amparo graces the lobby space of what was once her majestic home. An exhibit of the work of contemporary Mexican artist Betsabee Romero captured our attention, especially the tires carved in Aztec patterns and then used to print designs on cloth. We spent about two hours browsing through the galleries. At noon, Sam and Tom decided to stroll around the Zocalo while I caught a taxi to the Uriarte Talavera gallery and factory at 4 Poniente 911 at Calle 11 Norte. I promised to be back at the Zocalo by 1 p.m. for our taxi trip to Cholula and I was!
I wanted to see for myself if there was indeed a distinction in quality between the work we saw yesterday strolling the Parian district and this pottery house that has been touted as one of the best in Puebla. Indeed, Uriarte Talavera is of exceptional quality and also carries the mark DO4. And, the prices reflect this. Pieces of equivalent size were double the cost of what we saw previously. But, I discovered the two rooms with the “seconds” which were marked down 50 percent from the original price. Okay, there were flaws. The glazes weren’t even or ran and blurred or skipped. Maybe the foot was imperfect or a piece had a missing lid. In hunting through the piles of plates, soup bowls, sinks, serving pieces, demitasse cups and mugs, I managed to find some treasures where the flaws were barely noticeable if at all. I found one lovely large globe handsomely painted in varying shades of deep and light blue, the glazes thick and juicy that distinguish fine Talavera, and made the purchase. Original price, 650 pesos, sold to me for 325 pesos. Now, it was 12:45 p.m. and I stepped out in front of the shop, hopped in a taxi seconds later, and easily made it to the Zocalo for the 1 p.m. reunion with minutes to spare.
We had negotiated a 90 pesos taxi fare to Cholula and it took a good 30 minutes to get there. We are finding that taxi fares in Puebla are more reasonable than in Oaxaca, but we have seen very few European visitors during this trip, also unlike Oaxaca, where there is a mix of travelers from the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
Cholula’s main attraction is the Mixteca archeological site that was once a pyramid like those we see in Oaxaca however, without the fine detail. However, this one is unique in that there are tunnels running up, down and sideways throughout the interior of this structure. Walking through the tunnel after paying the 35 pesos admission fee made me wonder what would happen if there was an earthquake (Puebla has frequent quakes). The walls are narrow and the ceilings are low, shaped like a pointed vault. We twisted and snaked through the underground passageways for at least 30-40 minutes before seeing daylight.
The other attraction is the extraordinary church built over this pyramid, something the Spanish did repeatedly to lure indigenous people to the new religion. To get there is like taking a stairmaster to the sky. I must have stopped 10 times to catch my breath as I climbed nearly vertical stairs to the top. But the effort was well worth it. The gilded sanctuary is remarkable and behind it lies another smaller sanctuary (don’t miss it, it’s a gem) totally covered in gold leaf with stained glass windows of cherubs. The 360 degree views of Puebla and the valley are spectacular from this vantage point far above the town, and I could see the curl of steam coming out from the Popo volcano in the not too far distance. I spent a good 45 minutes at the top before going down. Otherwise, Cholula is a small market town, as much as I could see, with vendors selling candies, Guatemalan textiles, knock-off Talavera, and cheap jewelry. Worth a half a day if you have the time.
Our taxi driver returned to pick us up exactly at 5:30 p.m. as arranged, and by 6:00 p.m. we were sitting under the arcade of the Hotel Royalty. Corona for Tom, margarita for Sam, and a mojito for me. We each had our own huge bowl of guacamole and chips for dinner, and now adequately zonked, we headed back to the hotel for R&R.
The commotion, hubbub, honking, cacaphony of music, noise, traffic and rush of people is beginning to overwhelm me, and I’m now ready to get back to Teotitlan del Valle for a shiatsu massage with Annie, the comfort of the Zapotec countryside and village life. Four days in Puebla is definitely enough for me.
Puebla Revisited November 2009
Puebla is growing on me! This is the third visit this year and each time, it is a new discovery, a new food to savor, and a return to favorite spots. I am traveling with my sister who lives in the Bay Area and this is her first visit to Puebla, so I get to play tour guide! I arranged our stay at Camino Real Puebla, booking online using HotelsDotCom. The rack rate is about $250 USD per night and we paid approximately $85 per night based on a 13.1 exchange rate. This hotel is a former convent located two blocks from the zocalo and around the corner from my favorite restaurant El Mural de los Poblanos. We have a lovely room that was likely a cell for nuns who occupied the 17th century space. The décor is colonial with elements of the baroque. The breakfast is an exceptional buffet. This morning we had egg white omelets made to order stuffed with huitlachotle (mushrooms and organic corn) and cheese, fresh papaya, guava and orange juice mixed, delicious aromatic coffee, chilaquiles with salsas verde and rojo, fork tender roasted pork, and black beans. We started at 9 am and didn’t finish until close to 11 a.m. Thank goodness this was going to be a walking day, and it turned out that we didn’t sit down to dinner until 5:30 p.m.
After visiting the Museo Amparo, that had an extensive exhibit on performance and political art, strong enough to bring us both to tears (artists expressing themselves about the disappeareds in Chile and Argentina, or the AIDS epidemic, or the environmental degradation of our planet), we hopped a cab needing lighter fare and made our way to Uriarte Talavera. This was after we had spent a goodly amount of time ogling the beautiful work in Talavera de la Reyna shop that is part of the Museo Amparo. Next, a taxi ride to the Exconvento Santa Rosa where the famed talavera kitchen is the last part of the hour-long guided tour. The entry fee is 35 pesos each, and one cannot meander alone or take photos. Today, our guide only spoke Spanish, so I’m not sure what would have happened if our understanding was more limited.
The Dominican nuns sequestered there in the 17th century took vows of silence and participated in the rituals of mortification of the flesh. The superior slept on a wood platform without a mattress dressed in heavy, rough homespun wool year round, and wore a crown of thorns during the day. Life was interesting then.
Then, we hailed a cab to the area near the new convention center. Our destination was La Purificadora hotel and restaurant, designed by the famed Mexico City architect Legoretta. This is a stunning contemporary space amidst historic Renaissance and Baroque buildings, a punctuation mark in spectacular city resplendent in Moorish influences. This is where we had a unique and innovative dinner: a trio of appetizers that we shared – tiny squash blossoms stuffed with cheese and deep fried in tempura batter, octopus in a spicy tomato sauce on a homemade tortilla , and an organic mesclun salad with truffle oil dressing served with avocado, grilled tomato, and fresh grilled baby corn. For the entrée, Barbara had this chef’s version of the same stewed goat in tomato broth that we had the night before at El Mural. This version was definitely different. (The great chefs in the city prepare this special dish, Huaxmole or Mole de Caderas, once a year in honor of an ancient pre-Hispanic tradition.) My entrée with a sea bass steamed over corn husk, topped with onion slivers, chopped red pepper, fresh nopal cactus, and spinach bits. The sauce was a golden delicate scent of fish broth and cream.
After all this, we decided to walk back in the chill of the evening, strolling in sisterly arm-in-arm, as you soon women do together in Mexican cities, comfortable in their relationship. It was about ten blocks back to the zocalo and it was a perfect night for strolling, brisk, cool, a bit breezy. Lots of people were on the street and we felt no sense of being at risk. Tomorrow morning, we will get up early, take the bus to Oaxaca for our final evening in Mexico before flying home on Saturday.
10 Puebla Favorites:
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Food & Recipes, Travel & Tourism
Tagged Camino Real Puebla, eating and shopping in Puebla, La Purificadora, Mexico, Puebla, talavera ceramics, Talavera de la Reyna, Uriarte