Fairy tale castles in pig country

Before coming to Spain, I didn’t realize what a pig-crazy country it was.  The variety of pork sausages and salami in the markets is quite amazing.  And if you want, you can simply by a whole cured leg.  There were dozens of these in every market, making me think there must be a pig leg in every home in Spain.

DSC07512 by bryandkeith on flickr

Before ending up in someone’s kitchen, all these pigs, of course, have to live somewhere.  The rolling land of Castilla y León is apparently a good place.  We actually rarely saw live pigs, but we could smell them as we pedalled by the warehouse-type buildings that must have been full of pigs.
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Treasures near Madrid, or how 100km of cycle touring takes a week

Bicycle touring Spain, finally!  I’ve wanted to go to Spain for years.  I have Kurt to thank for making it happen this year.  When he was in Antalya last fall, he suggested a one-month tour from to Lisbon to Barcelona.  I managed to convince him that going from Madrid to Barcelona in one month was enough.  So we flew to Madrid, met at the airport, and started riding from there.

DSC07570 by bryandkeith on flickr

Third (after Italy and China) in the number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Spain is full of treasures.  With so many things to see in and around Madrid, it took us a week to pedal the first 100 kms of our tour!  And that was without visiting Toledo and Ávila, two other nearby cities that are supposed to be great.  In that week we visited Madrid, El Escorial, La Granja, and Segovia.

On our first day in Spain we went to one of the world’s great art museums: Museo del Prado.  We headed straight for Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights and spent a good half an hour enjoying his crazy delights.  Antje gave Ferda and me a fun introduction to Bosch (El Bosco in Spanish) when we were in Berlin in January, and Kurt was keen to see some of his works for the first time.  One thing Antje didn’t let us look at in Berlin was Rubens because she’s not a fan so I was sure to check out The Three Graces at the Prado.

The next day we visited another fabulous art museum, Reina Sofia.  There we headed straight for Picasso’s famous Guernica.  After a few more Picassos we got stuck on this surrealist work by Salador Dalí:
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Coast to coast: Guerrero to Veracruz

My family first took a Troncones vacation together in 2000.  I bet we’ve been eight times in 18 years.  We’ve always stayed at the same place, Casa Escondida, and every time we return, we’re always excited to see Inéz and Diojenes who have been taking care of Casa Escondida the whole time.  Troncones is only about an hour by car from the Zihuatanejo airport, making it easily accessible for my parents and sister from Los Angeles and for my brother and his family from Anchorage.  Ferda and I took an overnight bus from Querétaro.

The bodysurfing’s often good in Troncones, and there are surfers out on some days as well.  The sleepy village, the pool, the beach, good food, time with family — it’s a wonderful place to spend a week.  We found Antonio again who put together a fun morning on horses on a mercifully cool day.

DSCN0234 by bryandkeith on flickr
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New Year in Querétaro

Querétaro’s historic center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.  In 2008 National Geographic Traveller ranked Querétaro 13th on their list of the 200 best historic destinations for tourists.  That downtown historic Querétaro is a super place to visit is certainly no secret, yet somehow I had never been there before.  Only a short bus ride from Mexico City, it’s certainly easy to get to Querétaro.  Ferda and I showed up in the late afternoon on New Years’ Eve with no hotel reservations.  Mexicans, of course, travel like mad during the holidays so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we had a little trouble finding a place to stay.  It didn’t help that we had lots of luggage — we were lugging around climbing gear — and my cell phone wasn’t working.

I had been phoning some hotels earlier in the day, but then the calls wouldn’t work from Querétaro itself.  What I learned is that in Mexico you need city codes, but once you’re in the city, even with a cell phone, you can’t use the city code.  So with your cell phone you need a different number to call the same place depending on where you are in Mexico.  Do other countries work like that?  It seems strange and has the effect of making one even madder at billionaire Carlos Slim, charging high prices for both lousy and strange service.

Once I got the phone figured out, we found a good place to stay with plenty of time to enjoy the New Year festivities.  The downtown plazas were full of people, lights, and dancing.

DSCN0051 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Adventures with Isaac: DF, Hidalgo, Potrero Chico

Mexico City is my favourite big city.  I always enjoy visiting and staying with Isaac.  Why is Mexico City my favourite?  I started thinking the reason was that I really hadn’t been to that many big cities, but that’s not so true — Tokyo, Jakarta, Delhi, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Mumbai, Wuhan, Kolkata, Istanbul, London, Los Angeles, Xi’an, Paris, Rio de Janeiro…  According to Wikipedia, I’ve been to over a third of the cities with over 10,000,000 inhabitants.  So what’s so great about Mexico City?  Partly, along with Los Angeles and Istanbul, it’s one of the big cities that I know the best, and partly it’s because Mexico City is just a whole bunch of different towns, neighbourhoods, villages in one urban mess.  San Juan de Aragón where Isaac lives, Tlatelolco, Centro Histórico, Tepito, La Basílica, Coyoacán, Cuidad Universitaria, Xochimilco — they’re all so different from each other and interesting in their own right.  I was hoping Ferda would like it.

We spent the first day visiting some of the highlights in the center with Isaac.  Ferda really wanted to see Frida Kahlo’s house in Coyoacán so we headed out there another day.  However, this was the week between Christmas and New Year, and the line to get in was incredible.  It looked like the wait could be hours, and that’s not how we wanted to spend our afternoon.  I had hoped we’d have a chance to get back there where we came through Mexico City again at the end of our trip, but it didn’t happen.  Because of the way the tickets work (and the long distance from San Juan de Aragón), it makes sense to visit Anahuacalli and Frida Kahlo museums on the same day.  Because of museum closures and weekend crowds, that has to be Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.   We didn’t make it, but now we have an excuse to go back.  Isaac thinks it’s amusing that Frida Kahlo has a worldwide cult following, but many of these followers don’t even know who Diego Rivera is!

DSCN9894 by bryandkeith on flickr
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