It was Memorial day last Monday – which meant that ‘C’ got the day off. I love the fact that he gets both Mexican and American holidays off – as it means we can get the chance to organise lots of little weekend trips to explore this amazing country we are living in.
So, last weekend, we, together with a few friends of ours decided to spend a night in Puebla an absolutely beautiful city about a two hours drive East of Mexico City. For anyone living in Mexico City, or visiting for a few days I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to go and explore this old city. The drive is incredibly easy (although it may not be the most interesting of drives) and relatively fast, in fact ‘C’ and I have said that we would actually consider doing it as a day trip.
We stayed at the NH Hotel – which I would definitely stay in again. Although it is a rather ugly modern building, the location is fantastic (a few blocks from the city centre) the rooms are incredibly comfortable and clean and you have great amenities: a roof top pool and bar – what more could you want? The bar unfortunately was shut when we were there as it was Sunday, but it looked like the sort of place I would love to go for a sun-downer or a night-cap!
Puebla is one of the five most important colonial cities in Mexico, which was founded in 1531. Unlike other colonial cities, Puebla is a planed city and was not built upon an existing settlement, rather it was the first city in Mexico to be laid out on a grid pattern by the Spanish – which makes it incredibly easy to navigate! The city not only has a rich and influential history but amazing architecture styles ranging from the Renaissance to Mexican Baroque – because of this Puebla was in fact declared to be a World Heritage Site in 1987.
There are lots of museum, old mansions and convents that have been transformed into art galleries and hundreds of churches to explore – and if you are not the museum going type, just strolling down the streets is enough to absorb the feel and atmosphere of Puebla, or sitting at a cafe in the Zocalo (main plaza) drinking your tequila and sangrita watching the world go by is not a bad option either!
On Sunday when we were there, we stumbled upon an antique fair, a whole street of vendors selling their ‘antiques’ – although if I’m going to be honest it was more of a flea market rather than an antique fair, nevertheless it was still fun to walk around and look at what people were selling. There was a whole hodge-podge of items and I am sure there were quite a few things that would have been worth buying if you know your antiques! What did amuse me was that someone was trying to sell a video tape – ha, I must be getting old!
Puebla is also known for its Talavera – distinctive glazed ceramics. This is because there was an abundance of clay in the region, attracting the best artisans from around the world. Between 1550 and 1557 Spanish potters from Talavera de la Reina in Spain travelled to Puebla to teach the locals the European technique of using the potter’s wheel and tin-glazing. The technique was first used for the tiles that still adorn many of the buildings in Puebla, and later it developed into pots, plates, jars and other items. Today, Puebla is filled with this distinctive ceramics, and in fact there is a street dedicated to selling Talavera (which I can not remember the name at the moment!). Although I must admit I was very sceptical of these shops, they have hundreds upon hundreds of these ‘hand-made products’ that due to the sheer quantity alone – I doubt they can all be hand-made! Also I found them quite expensive. This may be because I do not have the eye for the fine art that is Talavera, but I thought $95 for a ceramic platter in a dusty shop brimming with ‘talavera’ and dedicated entirely to tourist was just too much….
However, on this road there is a great little breakfast place. So, if like us – you have lost interest in being ripped off you should go there for a bite to eat. It’s called Fonda de Alfenique, and is run by a husband and wife team. It really is a hole in the wall eatery, nothing at all fancy. But not only is it incredibly clean and the husband and wife duo were very friendly, they had fantastic sandwiches, or rather cemitas as they are called here. You should order the cemita de milanesa, which apparently is a speciality – thin slice of chicken or beef, lightly dusted with flower and then fried until crisp. I actually had mine with ham and Oaxaca cheese (a salty stringy type of white cheese from the state of Oaxaca), this coupled with a hot milky coffee really makes for a perfect breakfast.
Talking of food – another dish that Puebla is famous for (or should I say infamous – only because I don’t like it) is the Mole Poblano. A thick, viscous semi-sweet, semi-salty chocolaty sauce that is ladled onto a plate with a leg of chicken and rice. No matter how many times I have tried this – I can not bring myself to like it – but some people love it! Each to their own I guess.
To be honest, we haven’t really found any ‘good’ places to eat in Puebla. We went to one very quaint little restaurant called Fonda de Clara, which is quite well known for serving traditional Mexican food – the interior and atmosphere is great, but I have heard that their quality of food has gone down with their rise of popularity! However for a spot of Mexican lunch I would recommend it. For dinner we went to Hotel Royalty which is on the Zocalo – and although the starters were great melted cheese with chorizo, and an ant-egg tortillas (honestly not as scary as it sounds!) the main left ALOT to be desired. Two of the dishes were pretty much left untouched and ‘C’s lamb stew was so spicy it tasted more like a lamb Vindaloo, plus he broke out in hives afterwards which can never be a good sign!
So if anyone can recommend any good quality places to eat – please do let me know as we intend to go back to Puebla many times during our stay here in Mexico City.
All in all Puebla is a city that offers a little something to everyone, and I have a feeling that every time you go back, you will discover something new. I great way of spending a weekend!