San Miguel de Allende 18 October 2017

We are off to a really late start. I confess I am not feeling great. Not sure what is the problem. I figure I need food in my tummy. (Whatever is wrong, feed it!) We are amazed it’s lunch time already! So off to Garambullo for a mid-day meal. I have a fabulous whole wheat panini of Brie cheese, pear, goat cheese and pesto sauce. Can you imagine that? It was fabulous! There was also a little green salad on the plate. H had enchiladas with beans. He was disappointed that it was rather bland. He should have asked for the red sauce they served on my chilequilles a couple of days earlier. We both had agua fresco made of guava and rosemary—it was delicious.

We had planned to go to Fabrics la Aurora for the afternoon, an old fabric manufacturing building that now houses individual shops. But I am not feeling great. So we decide to “veg” at home. I start a new book, drink more water and by 6pm I’m ready for dinner.

Our destination is La Mezcaleria since we had such a great meal there earlier. We can’t resist the margaritas and the grilled vegetables. H has the filet of beef in a coffee & herb rub. I’m not super hungry so I have the the grilled rib eye with chipotle and fried leek tostada. H tried the Allende (local) beer and I had my favorite Sauvignon Blanc from the Guadaloupe Valley, Mexico vintner Monte Xanic. We had the outdoors to ourselves but I think the mosquitos also had dinner while we were there.

We had a nice walk home. Tomorrow is my 65th BIRTHDAY!

San Miguel de Allende 17 October 2017

We were completely lazy this morning. I’ve been trying to connect with a man, Albert Coffee, who has guided tours to a nearby native pyramid. Finally we connect but based on his description, it may be too much for walking with my bad hip. We are emailing back and forth. We’d both like to go.

We have great plans to go first to local Garambullo for breakfast and then to Fabrica la Aurora, once a textile factory but now home to artisanal crafts. We are late to get out and find Garambullo is closed. The lady we met on the first day we tried to eat at Garambullo walked past us so we chatted. She said most restaurants are closed Tuesdays but Pegaso was open today (closed tomorrow). That was great news; we really liked Pegaso.

Before we knew it we were ordering the best margaritas in town! I had beef fajitas and H had Octopus Mexicanos. Both were excellent! Over our second margaritas we decided to go to Fabrica la Aurora another day. We went to a new bakery recommended by Les; bought wine, cheese and sausage at the grocery store; and headed home. My hip was pretty good so I sent an email to Albert saying we’d like to sign up for the tour on Saturday. I hope he believes me that my hip is well enough to walk the tour. I’m trying to believe it myself!

So here we are slugs on the sofa at “home.” I hope we don’t slime up the upholstery!

San Miguel de Allende 16 October 2017

We are happy to have a great breakfast down the street at Garambulla. This tiny restaurant is an example of San Miguel’s commitment to food and healthy food. The owners/ servers are incredibly nice. Although in typical Mexican fashion it is really hard to get the check (la cuenta, por favor) and pay.

Today I avoid the delicious but blow-your-head-off spicy chilaquiles. I go the exact opposite and order waffles with caramel sauce. It was good for a change but I really think the Mexican breakfasts are the best. H orders eggs, nopales (cactus), beans and tomatillo sauce. H says it was great but when we look at the photo I took it just looks an unappetizing green. It was better than that, I promise.

We want to retrace the Food Tour steps and take some pictures. H says earlier that he’s not sure what to buy me for my 65th birthday—so let’s look together. We pass a jewelry store that looks interesting… We come out with beautiful drop earrings—unlike any earrings I have. There are amethysts, pearls and larimar, a beautiful light blue stone from the Dominington Republic. I’m worried they will fall off since they do not have the plastic “guards.” So for my birthday dinner H must watch my earrings every second of the night!

We have lunch at the Peruvian restaurant and it is fantastic! Emergency Pisco Sours! (We were in Portland at a Peruvian restaurant for our 37th anniversary last month and the couple next to us said to their server: EMERGENCY PISCO SOURS! So that’s now our cocktail request.) We had a fabulous lunch:

I had a half avocado with green beans, corn, peas, bell pepper with garlic cream dressing. H had octopus ceviche layered with cooked spicy potatoes and cream garlic dressing. We both had Pisco sours but I switched to Mexican sauvignon blanc to drink with my main dish. Our dessert was incredible: caramel ice cream, candied walnuts and banana brûlée. At home we have a blow torch that would make the sliced bananas brûlée easy! Ask for it next time you’re coming for dinner.

After lunch we wandered around town, did a little souvenir shopping, took a few more pictures and then walked back to the apartment to relax and recuperate.

We later had dinner at Milagros. I had mole enchiladas and H had shrimp tacos. It was just OK. Of course we enjoyed Margaritas. In the next room they were having a great time with gringo bingo.

San Miguel de Allende 15 October 2017

I was awakened at about 5:30am by several gunshots! H did not stir so I lay there waiting to hear what would come next. More gunshot sounds, sometimes in rapid fire; it sounded close by. I slowly realized that it must be fire crackers. The firecrackers continued for about 2 hours. I’m thinking “What on earth is going on?!”

H finally wakes up and we finally decide its time to get up; the firecrackers are not going to stop any time soon. While drinking coffee we see our wildlife camera at home has captured two foxes. They are chasing each other, jumping in the air and it is hilarious!

We have a food restaurant tour scheduled for noon. The walk to the meeting area is about a mile. We pass through beautiful old sections of San Miguel—houses painted in lovely colors with neat gargoyle downspouts and rooftop gardens. Most of these homes have engraved dates of more than 100 years ago. The streets are cobblestone and it is quite a climb to our destination. I’m worried about my hip and knee—can I go the distance?

Our meet-up point is at Paseo Del Chorro, the hilltop where an ancient spring still gushes and where San Miguel was founded because of the water. There are “lavaderos” (clothes washing basins fed by the spring) that even today are used for that purpose. A chapel tops the hill and there are beautiful gardens fed by the spring. This walk has made me realize how magical San Miguel is!

Our tour leader, Les, is there when we arrive about 15 minutes early. We have him all to ourselves for the day and we tell him we want to hear all about San Miguel. So we set off on the tour with Les telling us all about San Miguel’s history, architecture, culture and food.

Our first stop is a restaurant we had on our list to visit: La Parada, a Peruvian restaurant. It has a beautiful outdoor space with rock walls covered in succulents. We sample their bass, corn & mango ceviche. It is delicious! The name was of the restaurant is “bus” in Spanish. This restaurant is supposed to be the bus stop. All over the restaurant are vehicle related items: bus tickets, license plates, a coffee table at the entrance had all sorts of nuts, bolts and other automotive items under glass. Speaking of nuts and bolts, those were the only indications of the restroom genders!

Here is a list of the other stops:
La Casa Del Diezmo, a Yucatán Restaurant: slow roast pig tostada
La Cocina, Café Del Viajero: mole enchilada. Such a wonderful chocolatey flavor!
Nieves de Garrafa: street vendor with great ice cream
Los Milagros: tortilla soup
Baja Fish Taquito: fish tacos on a roof top terrace with great views
San Agustin Churros y Chocolate: churro stuffed with cajeta (goat cheese caramel)

As we walk between stops, Les gives us all sorts of local information such as:
1. In Mexico whatever I have is yours. If a door is open you can just walk in. The bars on the windows have no relation to safety; there are there to keep your friends and neighbors from lifting items out of your home.
2. “Manana” here does not mean tomorrow it just means “not today.”Les says in Mexican culture no one wants to say NO. So they say anything but NO.
3. The streets are sooooo clean! Les says there are citizens that will litter purposely because they know their actions result in someone having a job! There are very few dogs loose on the street and virtually no evidence of dogs on the run.
4. Fire crackers: in Mexico when there is a celebration (and there’s always a celebration) the louder the better. And firecrackers are the best way to make that noise. Although music and yelling are also good ways to make the celebration better. That can happen any day of the week and all night long. Dogs and roosters contribute to the festivities. Les says “Get used to it!”
5. Only family is invited for meals at home so the town squares, restaurants and bar are really important for getting together. Any night people will meet up with friends until the early hours of the morning.
6. Les says the best restaurants are rated BBB: Bueno (good), Bonito (pretty) and Barato (cheap).
7. Les showed us a comparison of traditional Mexican cuisine (Milpa Diet) to Mediterranean cuisine. He advocates the TRADITIONAL Mexican food/cooking may be even better than the Mediterranean diet. Here are a few differences between the two (Mediterranean vs Mexican): olive oil vs avocado oil; mediterranean beans vs fava beans; Mediterranean seeds and grains vs new world seeds and grains including chia seeds. He says corn treated with lye is better digested and an important ingredient in Mexican cooking and should be an important ingredient in a healthy diet.
8. The Mexican people include in their lives “milagros” (it means miracles), medals, charms, paintings, alters, etc., that they believe protect the people who wear/have them. These Milagros ask God, the Virgin or saints to protect them or to answer their prayers. When we were in Puerto Vallarta decades ago I found a very interesting Milagro painting that I bought and gave to my mom. She liked that sort of thing and she was Catholic. Now that I think about it, it was a painting in gratitude to the Virgin for her help in healing someone. Les was wearing a corn Milagro pinned to his collar. He offered us a variety of Milagro medals so we could choose a charm that might be particular for our petition to Heaven. I chose a leg since my hip and leg have been particularly bad (I’m praying for a hip replacement soon after we get back!) H chose a pig because he thinks pigs are great creatures.
9. Les is very happy with the healthcare provided here and the low cost of living. He and his wife have lived here about 13 years (prior to that in La Paz, Mexico) and live about a 40 minute walk from town. (That means a good bit of hill hiking.) He would never even think about driving into town because there is no place to park and too many cars in the narrow streets. Besides walking and the traditional Mexican diet have resulted in him losing 57lbs!

When it came time to tip Les for his wonderful tour, I got completely mixed up with the exchange rate. I was going to give him a couple of dollars. Fortunately H stepped in and figured out the correct amount for such a wonderful tour.

Back home we relaxed; we were completely satisfied and had no interest in having more food.

We sat at home (with a glass or two of wine) with a renewed understanding of the neighborhood noise. We now were having the experience of a new sound outside our window: a man who was making a god-awful noise apparently hoping to advertise whatever he was selling. He walked slowly down the street as his incredible sounds flooded the neighborhood! H thought it was an animal…dying? in distress? The mariachi music is echoing from the square a few blocks away. Fire crackers now! Lotsa noise til 9pm.

San Miguel de Allende 11-14 October 2017

Here we are in San Miguel de Allende Mexico! And we ARE in Mexico: loud mariachi music at all hours of the day and night; nonstop barking dogs; trucks, ATVs, motorcycles, and autos zooming by our bedroom window at all hours; narrow cobblestone streets and sidewalks that threaten our safety (it will not surprise me to return with a broken bone from falling); lots of churches; questionable architecture and lovely architecture; GREAT MARGARITAS; friendly people and lots of them; delicious food; and many expats and visiting Americans.

So let’s start at the beginning of this trip. We felt a little stressed in the lead up to our departure. We are in the midst of a modest kitchen renovation. While we are away the flooring throughout most of the house will be removed. So that meant that we needed to move all the smaller furniture and knick knacks to the bedrooms. We also unloaded a very full and big china cabinet. There were renovation decisions to be made and carried out in our absence. And of course packing for our trip to be done. And we got through it all.

The night before our departure we enjoyed a fabulous dinner with our wonderful neighbors, Gail and Larry, at our favorite restaurant, Ostras. It was perfect in every way: tasty cocktails and small plates to share including paella, braised pork cheeks, skirt steak with a delicious sauce and cheesecake (shared) to end the evening. Gail even mentioned that the music played over the sound system was perfect…and it was! Those two lovely friends are dog-sitting Toby and Lucky along with their daughter’s two dogs for a total of FIVE DOGS while we’re gone. They are saints!

Our first stop was San Francisco for the night prior to our departure from the SF airport. We stayed at a Best Western with the capability to leave our car for the duration of the trip. The area was incredibly smoky from the horrible fires in Napa and Sonoma. What a terrible tragedy in an area we love! We were pooped after the 6+ hour drive and decided to eat at the hotel. There were nothing but OLD PEOPLE in the dining room! I guess we added two more people to that group description. Our dinner was surprisingly good although maybe a little overpriced. H had a beautifully cooked steak with roasted potatoes and grilled squash. I had chicken and pasta with crème pesto. The pesto would have been nicer without the cream but it was just fine.

The next day we had a 8:30pm departure so we were off to the SF ferry building for oysters at the Hog Island Oyster Company. A very nice uber driver took us there. He was from Columbia and had been here for 16 years. We did not want to hear too much about his time with the Colombian police! It was a pleasant ride nonetheless.

We arrived at our destination at about 11:00 and were at the front of the line at Hog Island—yippee! First on the agenda were two Bloody Marys. One sip and there was smoke coming out of my ears. H says I just haven’t had a Bloody Mary in a long time; they are now always super spicy. I was able to cut mine with water so that I could have a few sips but H finished it off. Second up were a dozen Hog Island Earthquake Bay oysters followed by mussels and fries for me and clams & pasta in a chorizo sauce for H. Fabulous bread from the Acme Bread Company was served nonstop til you said NO. I had Hog Island Oyster white wine and H had French Pic Poul, a favorite wine in France to accompany oysters. We needed dessert so lastly we ordered a dozen Island Creek oysters from the East Coast—haha. That was a GREAT meal.

We wandered around the ferry building but resisted buying anything. We stepped outside into the hazy, smoky sun and weren’t sure what to do next. My wrecked hip was bothering me so we knew we could not walk very far. As we were slowing walking we passed a pedicab. We sat down to look at my iPhone for suggestions. Quickly I said, “I’m going to talk to that man on the pedicab.” We had a wonderful pedicab trip to Pier 39! The young man pumping the bicycle was so nice pointing out interesting sites to us. And boy was he working hard—I was telling myself that I should really lose that extra 20 lbs. The $25 was well worth it and it was a nice adventure.

We spent an hour or so wandering around Pier 39. It’s rather like Disneyland. We tried to convince ourselves to visit the aquarium but it was $50 each and got not-so-good reviews on TripAdvisor so we passed. Instead we thought more alcohol might be a good idea. So off we go to enjoy a lichée mojito (me) and mango margarita (H) at the Eagle Cafe (established in 1928).

We strolled a little bit more but fairly quickly decided to return to the hotel. Uber was there when we needed it! We spent the couple of hours reading in the hotel bar before our departure to the airport (no service so the drinking stopped momentarily) along with four OLD MEN (get the picture?) playing cards.

It was a very easy check-in at the airport. When I booked the tickets I realized that first class was not much more in price than economy! We would be flying smaller planes so first class meant: bigger seats, drinks before take-off and FIFO (that’s accountant inventory talk for “first in, first out”) and access to the United Club. The United club was not a big deal unfortunately. They did have a nice salad bar and delicious tomato bisque. Well drinks were free but we wanted real champagne! We enjoyed a nice half bottle of a French rose champagne. We reminded ourselves that the last time we had champagne in an airport was in Paris 2015. The server there gave us a thumbs-up when we ordered it.

When we landed in Leon, Mexico we were the first to deplane, get through immigration and our bags came out almost immediately—thank you United First Class. Our driver was not there yet but several other drivers were concerned for us and called the agency to make sure someone was coming. That was our first experience with the kind and friendly Mexican people. “Benito” was, at that moment, making his way to the terminal. Then we were off for the 1 1/2 hour drive to San Miguel de Allende.

San Miguel de Allende is located in the Bajio region of Mexico (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baj%C3%ADo) a 6500 ft semi-arid plateau located in the very center of the country. The hills are covered with dry grassland and desert studded with thistles, sweet acacia and mesquite trees. It is a colonial town with Mexican baroque architecture. The town is noted for its great food, artisan community, incredible architecture & historic sites, and hot springs (damn, we didn’t bring our bathing suits—naked springs maybe?!). Ashland, Oregon’s sister city, Guanajuato, is a travel destination too. It’s about one hour to the north. The main attraction of the town of San Miguel is its well-preserved historic center, filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. This and the nearby Sanctuary of Atotonilco, were declared World Heritage Sites in 2008.

We arrive at our apartment in San Miguel about 8:30am (central time) and fell into a comfortable bed. We’ve had about one hour of sleep in the past 24 hours. After four hours of glorious sleep we were ready to meet San Miguel! But first let’s describe our beautiful apartment.

We are a very easy walk to the central part of town. Our street is cobblestone and very narrow. The apartment was renovated last year and is beautiful! The lower level is the bedroom and bathroom with all the amenities we hoped to have. The 2nd floor has a perfectly appointed kitchen and a comfortable sitting room. There is also a great outdoor space—a nice patio adjacent to the living room.

Every thing is beautifully decorated. The owners have been here 16 years. Before they purchased and renovated this spot they lived on a large ranch in the area. There are so many expatriates here. At breakfast today we overheard a woman saying she had been here 3 years but still was not proficient in Spanish. I am at a loss to respond to that kind of mentality.

On our first day we made our way to Garambullo, a restaurant within a very short walk on our street. However we arrived 5 minutes before their closing time at 5:00pm. Two  American ladies seated at the restaurant give us a couple of suggestions for dinner and so we were off to wander the town in search of a good Mexican restaurant.

We somewhat followed the map to the general vicinity of their restaurant suggestions. And we were surprised to see we are in front of Pegaso, one of their favorites. It’s a small place with very nice and attentive waitstaff. We began with two incredibly delicious margaritas (and we couldn’t resist another round when those were gone). H had braised tongue with olives and vegetables and I had Chilies en Nogata, poblano chilis filled with shredded meat, fruits and spices topped with a walnut-based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. Both dishes were “muy rico” (delicious). When I asked about dessert, the waiter indicated “come with me.” In the next room was a pastry case with at least 10 desserts. When in Mexico we must have flan—and it was delicious. The total cost of the meal was about $50.

We had a restful night in spite of the noise. The bed is super comfy.

It’s our first full day here! For breakfast we return to Garambullo. Their menu makes our mouths water. Everything is freshly prepared and looks beautiful. H orders polenta with poached eggs and vegetables. I order chilaquiles with a fried egg. Our server asks if I want green or red sauce. I say “red sauce.” She mumbles something about “picante.” Soon I understand what picante really means! It was hotter than the Bloody Mary! OK so I need to get some water…quick. H says “big mistake” as I gulp down the restaurant’s water. But I am a trusting kind of person so I’m sure the water is OK. NOTE TO SELF: next time get the waffles. Total cost $14.

It is imperative that we find a grocery store—we’re down to our last few sheets of TP. Wine and coffee are also on the list in that order of importance. We look and look for the grocery at the address we have been given but no grocery is to be found. So we are just wandering and looking in every little shop door. WOW—we find it a couple of blocks away from where we expected. We come to realize that the odd numbered addresses are not necessarily across the street from the even numbers you’d expect.

A month or so ago H installed a motion detecting  camera at the top of the slope in our backyard. We were concerned there might be coyotes on the other side of the fence. Before we left the camera caught two critters sneaking around one night. Our neighbor, Larry, who truly knows everything about anything identified the animals as foxes. Well I can tell you that the wildlife is having a ball while we are gone. One night a mama and two baby bears had great fun eating the tomatoes. The very next day several turkeys were picking through the garden. The foxes came back one night and they were either playing or fighting. How did they know the coast was clear?

After breakfast we relax, read and I start the travelogue. At about 4:00pm we are ready for more delicious Mexican food…and maybe a sip or two of margarita. It’s a tough decision on where to go. I use TripAdvisor and our landlords have a list of their favorites. We choose La Mezcalería. Google maps takes us on a new route with places we’ve not seen before so that was nice.

The restaurant is beautiful and small. Guess what we order first? Oh, you know us too well. Even though the margaritas were good, Pegaso is in the lead in the margarita contest. We share a grilled vegetable salad (sweet potatoes, zucchini and pickled beets) and a prawn dish (three big prawns with grilled cherry tomatoes and lotsa rosemary—who knew rosemary and prawns went so well together?). The salad is fabulous—we really need some vegetables in our system. And the prawns are equally as good. (Maybe I like the salad a tiny bit more, it is that good). We have a Sauvignon Blanc from the Guadaloupe Valley of Baja Mexico. Our friends Linda and Ron Grunow have been telling us how great the Guadaloupe wine is—we didn’t believe them. Well we are proved wrong. Our wine was from Monte Xanic.

We ask the server where we can buy wine and she directs us to La Europa. We leave with six bottles—that should hold us for a day or two. Across the street is a bakery, Cumpanio. We buy a half dozen sweet breads and croissants. We’re looking forward to breakfast tomorrow with our newly purchased coffee and breakfast breads.

Tomorrow is Sunday. We have a food tour scheduled for the afternoon. Can’t wait!

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