Monday, February 4, 2019

Veracruz in Photos

If you read the previous post you know I was feeling very grateful to get here.  I've only been here a few days but have fallen in love with Veracruz and the surrounding area.  Here are some photos:

I checked in to the Gran Hotel Diligencias about 9:30 pm on Thursday, Jan 31 2019.  This was the view I woke up to the next morning.

Looking down from my window to the pool.

The hotel lobby was lovely and elegant, just as in the internet photos.  The halls and rooms were a bit worn but my room was big and very clean.

Hotel Diligencias was booked for part of my trip so I walked to see where my new hotel was.  In the next block.

Many of the sidewalks are mosaic.  Generally, they seem to be in somewhat better repair than Guadalajara and happy have cuts for handicapped.  Some of the curbs are over a foot high.  How the women in high heels do it is beyond me.

Thank goodness, they have McDonalds.  And they deliver!

The Emporio is a fancy hotel right on the Malecon (which translates to pier but is basically any walkway near the sea.)  Beer is about $1.25 and cocktails are $2.50.

After walking for a couple of hours and enjoying some disappointing shopping at the mercado artisanales (which should more accurately be called the Market of Crap from China)  I decided to take a ride on the Hop On/Hop Off Bus.  I paid the lower price (about $3.75) for the 1 hour 15 minute tour.  Spanish only.

Near the Zocolo (main square) are pedestrian streets filled with restaurants and a few shops.  This area is jammed with people every evening, with live music and people dining and strolling.  When I got back from my Sunday tour at 9:30 p.m.  it was SRO.

This photo was taken about 1:30 pm a quiet time for siestas.

There's a fairly significant police presence.  Reassuring rather than menacing.

McDonalds not enough American for you?  How about DQ?  There's also a Holiday Inn, KFC , Costco and Walmart.
This church tower came in handy when I got turned around trying to find my hotel.

One of the fortresses in the city.  Not to be confused with a much larger fort/complex called San Juan de UlĂșa which I didn't have a chance to visit.  It's on an island overlooking the port city of Veracruz. 

These culinary students seemed to enjoy the break in their session, waving and yelling like crazy as our bus drove past.  All but one of the people on the bus, btw, were middle-aged women except one guy.  Yes, I consider myself middle-aged. I plan to live a very long time.

Who knew they had casinos in Veracruz?  I didn't visit.

I would love to describe in detail why the musician pictured in the statue is famous, along with the bar in the background.  But we were 45 minutes into a Spanish-only tour and my mind was drifting.  Lo siento.

Didn't think there could be a city without a Dominos did you?

This very modern looking building is the school of medicine for the local university..

Boco del Rio (mouth of the river) is like a modern suburb of Veracruz.  Only five miles and 45 minutes in horrible traffic, it has a very modern, seaside vibe compared to the historic city center.  While this stretch of beach looks deserted there were long stretches packed with people sunning, swimming and dining.

There are a number of ocean front modern hotels.  Here comes another one.  My guess is, this will be the new Puerto Vallarta.  The beaches /water look more like Daytona than Miami (grayer sand and water) but fewer crowds and lower prices.

Less than $50 a night for an ocean-front room during the week.


There were playgrounds and workout areas on the boardwalk that stretched for miles along the beach.

I love that Mexico encourages walking and just sitting outdoors by ensuring plenty of seats.

For about a mile between Boca de Rio and Veracruz is a stretch of non-stop restaurants, bars and places selling inflatable water toys.

I can't imagine how crowded this place gets in the summer.  Today was about 80 degrees.

Some fishing boats.

The view toward the Veracruz docs.  I was told that summer is when the cruise ships come.  Currently there are a number of freighters in port.

 In the next post - El Tajin - the pyramids north of Veracruz.

What It's Really Like to Fly Stand-by

I really appreciate that my good buddy Kyle gave me a pass to fly on United for the year.  It is a very, very generous gift.  But, as anyone on a Buddy Pass will tell you, there are challenges.

Here's the deal.  There's a United website (which can only be accessed by employees and passholders).  There, I can look at flight availability, including how many are booked on the flight, how many are standing-by and what my relative ranking is.   

I booked a flight for January 31st to Veracruz.  I chose Veracruz based on weather, hotel prices, types of local food and flight availability.  I could have opted for Fairbanks but the weather there generally stinks in January, IMHO. 

Buenos Aires has lovely hot weather in January but it's high season and the hotel rooms were pricier than I prefer.  Auckland is also lovely in January but there was the issue of hotel costs and a really, really long flight.  And, I've been there.

So Veracruz it is - nice hotel for less than $60 a night, weather around 80 and sunny and plentiful inexpensive seafood, Veracruz style.  And, 10 open seats on the flight.  That was the night before I was to leave.

I woke up early on January 31st, finished packing and did a last minute check of flight availability.  And started swearing and stressing.  The flight was now -6 seats.  Yes, that means at least six people would have to not show up to get a seat.  I figured that since flights to Houston were plentiful and there were flights to cities all over Mexico if I didn't get on the Veracruz flight, I'd get a flight to someplace warm, cheap and with good food.

During my 4.5 hour layover in Houston I contemplated where else I could go.  One of the dilemmas was that my Veracruz flight didn't leave until 6:05 pm and I wouldn't know until about 6:00 pm if I had a seat.  Then had to find a flight that departed later and had a gate close enough that I could get there.  And had seats available.  It looked like Santiago de Queretaro was the winner.  It's a city in the central Mexican state of Queretaro, which I'd never heard of.  But just before they called my flight to Veracruz I realized the Queretaro gate was too far.  Even if I hijacked one of the little airport carts, I couldn't make it in time.

I was sweating as I patiently waited to one side while they boarded the Veracruz flight.  The flight hadn't actually been oversold but seats were being held.  Normally for weight issues.  15 minutes before departure time, I was given a boarding pass. 

As I settled in to my exit row seat (yay!  leg room!)  the gate agent came on board and had a word with the captain and flight attendant.  It seems two passengers had checked luggage for the flight but were nowhere to be found.  For security reasons, they needed to either find the passengers (which meant I wouldn't be going to Veracruz) or take their luggage off the plane.

As I anxiously waited (yes, they would politely ask me to get off the plane for a revenue passenger and yes, I would politely and quietly do it while trying not to whimper) I considered my options.  The flight at the next gate had just started boarding and was heading to Chihuahua.  My sole knowledge of chihuahua is about yippy dogs, not a large city in Mexico.  But I figured I'd give it a try.  It was either that or spend the night in Houston and see where I could go the next day.

At 6:10 p.m. , five minutes after scheduled departure, they closed the boarding door.  I was off to Veracruz.

What is it really like to fly standby?  It's an adrenaline rush.  Nerve racking.  Challenging for us Type A control freaks.  And a blast.  I'm very happy to be in Veracruz.  But probably would have enjoyed Santiago de Queretaro or Chihuahua, too.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Houston, I've Landed

I'm happy to report that I made it on the flight from Guadalajara to Houston. 

Once on the ground in Houston I walked four miles (I'm estimating, it could have been 22) to get to the Global Entry kiosks.  I was the only one there and did my entry and got my receipt in a couple of minutes.  Then I waited in line (yes, I was the only one there) until the BP agent decided to call me over and take my receipt.

Then I walked seven more miles (again, an estimate.  It could have been 102) past luggage claim (I only had a carry on), past customs and into an area where we were corralled to wait to go upstairs to go through TSA.  That took about 10 minutes.

Once upstairs I saw the mob of people and asked an employee for the TSA pre-check line.  "That's downstairs."  The same downstairs I just came from?  Yes.

Back downstairs I went.  I asked the lone employee allowing (or not) people to get on the escalator to TSA.  Traffic control, I assume because it was SRO in the TSA lines.  She told me to go outside, upstairs and look for the Pre-Check signs.  I did.  And they had them...randomly.

The actual answer is that Houston does not have TSA Pre-Check for passengers connecting from an international flight.  I was going outside and coming in as if I'd just arrived at the airport.

Once I finally found the Pre-Check line (after walking about another 24.6 miles) there was a problem.  It seems not all the TSA employees realized it was Pre-Check so they were letting anyone who strolled up get in line.  Finally, an enterprising young woman took charge and separated those of us who actually had Pre-Check from those who were in the wrong line.

While waiting in a line a guy behind started louding saying "This is why we need a wall.  Am I right?  We need to stop these people coming in here.  Build that wall, build that wall."  I'm not sure why he assumed a wall would help, unless he was thinking that Trump was just building one around the airport to keep anyone without TSA Pre-Check out.  It was hard but I did not respond.  No eye contact, no comment.  I believe I hurt myself by keeping it in.  The best part was as the woman started separating us the guy got really made because a bunch of people got to go ahead of him.  Because he didn't have Pre-Check and was in the wrong line.

After another 10 minutes, I was through and laughing about "wall guy".

I checked the gate monitors and saw that my flight, which didn't leave for another 3 .5 hours, was at gate E1.  Just a quick 39 miles away.

Thanks, United - I got my steps for today.

BTW, there's a sign next to one of the escalators in the Houston maze from international gates to TSA that says "Senior Citizens - do NOT use escalators.  This is for your own safety."    I used 'em anyway.  What are they going to do, take away my Global Entry status?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Just Another Guadalajara

Some travelers want to see everything.  I'm too lazy for that.  And, to be honest, I've seen enough temples, cathedrals and museums to last me a lifetime.  Now when I travel, I do go to to museums and cathedrals (Guadalajara has some good ones) but I also take it easy.

People here seem to enjoy just hanging out in the plazas.  Enjoying snacks and the company of friends.  Yesterday I took it easy.  Between several walks around the historic district, I mostly hung out on my terrace.  Not a bad way to spend a day.

Before I share photos of the day, I'd like to share a few thoughts on my day, in random order.

  • If you ask a question in Spanish, using correct words and grammar, with a decent accent, chances are the response you get will be in rapid fire Spanish.  After all, they assume you must speak the language.  Little do they know I've been practicing the question in my head for five minutes.  When my response to their response is a deer in the headlights look, do they just think I'm a bit slow?  They wouldn't be completely wrong.

    Having said that, I did manage to ask directions twice yesterday (and was able to follow them) and had a couple of brief conversations, completely in Spanish.  
  • Convenience stores hoard bags.  That's the only conclusion I can come up with when I buy several items and no bag is offered.  I've gotten one each time I've asked.  Do they just think I'll stroll down the street juggling the items as I go?
  • Mexican toilet paper smells nice.  Actually I can't speak for all Mexican toilet paper but the two hotels I've stayed in use the same toilet paper which has a lovely scent.  Strong enough to lightly scent the bathroom.  But not strong enough to be annoying.
  • The historic center of the city is designed for people to walk and spend time.  There are benches everywhere and multiple pedestrian streets.  The layout encourages people to spend time outside.
  • Smog makes sunrises and sunsets look better.  Mexico doesn't seem to have stringent laws against air pollution (much the same direction the US is now headed) and as a result has much more smog than US cities (at least for now).  While annoying and not good for breathing, it does enhance the sunrises and sunsets. 
  • Presumably because most tourists visiting Guadalajara are Mexican, the hotels where I've stayed don't have English channels.  Well, Hotel NH Collection Centro has one but it's Fox News, so I don't bother turning on the television.
And now, the photos:

Sunrise comes later than I'm used to but is beautiful. 
The hotel has a number of large, modern statues.  This one is outside the elevator on the fifth floor.

The city is pretty empty at 9:00 a.m.

A Dollar Store.  Or in this case, a $4.50 peso store.

Another almost empty street.  Just a few people going to work.

For my Canadian friends.

Lots of statues.  This one is in front of a modern mall.

Same statue, different view.  I like that Guadalajara has lots of trees, even in the downtown area.

Part of the shopping mall.

Oxxo is to Mexico like 7 Eleven is to Thailand.  A convenience store that is everywhere. 

He doesn't have a shoe shine stand but still does business.  I realized why they are so popular.  My shoes are covered in dust every time I come back from a walk.

Inside the OXXO store.

A large grocery store.  Sadly, not open. 
An empanada stand.

Imagine working in a tiny space all day with your spouse.  That's what this couple do.  He gave me directions to an ATM.  I came back and bought a cheese/chile empanada for breakfast.

Because the Cathedral has such tall spires, it's my landmark to keep me from getting completely lost. 
If you'd like, you can dine al fresco on the plaza.

More shoe shine stands.  Yes, I'm obsessed with them.

A pedestrian street with beautiful architecture.

This sidewalk will be jammed later in the day.

My empanada.  Very flaky but to be honest, not great.

Beautiful view while eating my breakfast empanada.

The sidewalk is getting busier.

A cart on the plaza selling fruit drinks was nicely decorated.  And popular.

I found a bakery.  Worth the 12 block walk.

The croissant had a very dense texture and was HUGE but the filling, dulce de leche (called cajeta here) was fabulous.

I'm a fan of the street lights.

And the giant doors.

They're doing some kind of construction on the street next to my hotel.

An out-of-order photo of the bakery items.

A historic theatre, now home to the University Philharmonic Orchestra.

The theatre is huge.

The theatre faces a plaza and next to the school of arts for the University of Guadalajara.

Part of the University.

I also love that they have fountains everywhere.

Yet another statue...a founder of the University, perhaps?

People of all ages stroll around, enjoying snacks and taking advantage of the many benches.

Free flu shots on the street.

I couldn't figure out what was happening here.  There was a very long line of people (maybe 100) waiting for something.

They were waiting to go in a door behind the red car.  It wasn't a restaurant but I couldn't tell what it was.

Another one of the statues in the hotel.  This one is in the lobby.  It is HUGE.

There is a McDonalds, a Burger King and a Subway within a block of my hotel.  This is also near the University.  I don't think that's a coincidence. 

The hotel restaurant has both indoor and outdoor dining and an incredible view of the Cathedral and plaza.

Late afternoon and the streets are packed.

Tacos al pastor, cooked on a spit like shawarma.  Delicious.

The tiny grill where all the food is made.

I got 2 quesadillas and 2 tacos al pastor.  Along with hot sauce, a grilled pepper and grilled onions.  About $2.50 for all.

For dessert I had the croissant de carjeta.  It was so big I only ate half.

A beautiful evening view but you can see the smog on the horizon.