GratiTuesday: Delightful Discoveries

When planning a trip, especially one where we will spend a decent amount of time in one location, I often do a search on Instagram. Although guidebooks and general internet sources are fine, Instagram can be a great tool to scout unique and interesting locations. That is how I discovered Casa de las Ranas and the Chapel of Jimmy Ray, and decided we had to go.

Located a few miles outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the house and gallery (which is really the entire property) is a fanciful, whimsical, and joyful celebration of color and creativity. The house, outbuildings, and grounds provide a canvas on which the fantastic mosaic and sculptural creations of owner/artist Anado McLauchlin are assembled and displayed.

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To call Anado’s and his husband Richard’s home merely colorful doesn’t do it justice. It really was more of an explosion of creativity, artistic talent, celebratory color, and love. From the moment Anado greeted us just inside his gate to when the tour ended inside their home (where we had the pleasure of meeting Richard, an art historian and professor) we were embraced by their kindness, welcoming spirit, and their joy of sharing this magical place.

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The property wasn’t easy to get to, but the trip was well worth the effort. Tours are by appointment only (anado@madebyanado.com) and not all cab drivers were aware of its existence. Once there, we arranged for the driver to come back after the tour (which lasted about two hours) since it would have been impossible to find another cab where they lived.

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During are stay in San Miguel we visited many of the locations that our Moon guidebook recommended and we very much enjoyed all that the beautiful colonial town has to offer. Sometimes, though, it was nice to get off the beaten path and be delighted by the unusual and unexpected. Casa de las Ranas and the Chapel of Jimmy Ray were a highlight of our trip and I am grateful to Anado and Richard for fully embracing their playful natures and for allowing us to explore their fantastical home.

Casa de las Ranas (House of the Frogs).
Richard welcoming us into his home.

Thursday Doors: Rounded Doors

This week, I’m sharing more of the beautiful doors we found in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Over our seven-week stay, I took so many door pictures that I decided to break them into groups. Last week, I shared pictures of Carved Doors, and this week all the doors are rounded at the top.
Some doors are set off with rich paint colors and some have intricate stonework as their frames, but all are indicative of the stunning architectural details found all over this colonial Mexican town.

We walked by this stunning building almost daily during our housesit. Since it fronted a narrow walkway, it was difficult to get the whole building in a single frame.

I love everything about this door – the color, the ironwork, and the beautiful stone surrounding it.
I really like the contrast of the modern door and the aged stonework.
Another residential door that I would love to open and see inside.
The muted color of the door and the warmly painted building made a lovely scene.
Bougainvillea vines frame this door, the red blossoms a striking contrast with the wall color.

 

Don’t forget to head on over to Norm’s blog to view his collection of doors, then click on the blue frog at the end of his post to see what others have shared.

GratiTuesday: Sharing the Joy

One of the many things my husband and I love about Mexico are the public celebrations. Religious celebrations, wedding celebrations, birthday celebrations, and who-the-heck-knows-why celebrations are often at least partially held where onlookers are welcome to share in the festivities.

Every weekend during our stay in San Miguel de Allende, a wedding (or three, or four) was held in the stunning Parroquia church. Once the wedding mass was over, the bridal party and guests would spill out into the courtyard and onto the street in front of the church. A fancy car or horse and carriage would often be waiting to take the newlyweds to their reception, but not before the invited guests – and anyone in the area at the time – were swept up in the joyful celebration.

The bride and groom waving goodbye before leaving for their reception.

On our way to dinner one evening, we stopped to watch an expat’s 70th birthday celebration. Along with her and her partner’s guests, lucky onlookers enjoyed the revelry, which included a mariachi band, dancing in the street, and the antics of the giant mojigangas (pronounced mo-he-gan-gas) that were decorated to look a bit like the couple.

Betty, celebrating her 70th birthday.
Dancing in the street with the giant mojigangas to the music of the mariachi band.

One event that is unique to San Miguel is Dia de Los Locos (day of the crazies), which is an annual celebration that takes place in June. Los Locos has deep religious roots but much of the festivities appear to be completely secular. Although the day begins with a mass at the San Antonio church (which was just a few blocks from our housesit), once the participants head out to the streets where the crowds are waiting, all vestiges of religion fall away.

As the flamboyant procession moves along the main avenue, onlookers are treated to wild (and often delightfully politically incorrect) costumes, loud music, dancing, and hard candy projectiles being tossed their way. Over 10,000 participants join in the parade costumed as cartoon characters, politicians, clowns (both friendly and scary), and fantasy figures, while an even larger crowd watches from the sidewalks that line the route.

Celebrations and festivals are an integral part of Mexican life. In San Miguel, barely a day goes by that does not commemorate a patron saint, a beloved chapel, or a revolutionary hero. And then, of course, are the personal celebrations like weddings, anniversaries, or birthdays. We were very grateful to not only be there when many of these celebrations occurred, but also grateful to be able to join in and share the joy.

Thursday Doors: Carved Doors

I was not at all surprised to find a plethora of door pictures among the hundreds of images I took when visiting San Miguel de Allende. After all, spending seven weeks exploring a colonial Mexican town known for its beauty, history, and culture of art (both old and new), is bound to keep my camera busy.

After going through my images and picking the ones that I thought were most interesting, I still had way too many to share in a single post. To avoid door-overload (is that even possible?), I have put them into groups (carved, rounded, weathered, opened, decorated, and not doors), each of which will be shared over the coming weeks.

My carved door group has the greatest number of images. Some of the doors were very old (and most likely restored) and some were of more recent vintage. All were works of art.

Casa del Mayorazgo de la Canal is one of the most spectacular examples of 17th-century civil architecture in the region. The inner courtyard of this magnificent mansion now displays high-quality shows by important Mexican artists and is open to the public.
Who wouldn’t want to come home to this?
I loved the intricate carving and the beautiful blue-green wash.
These doors need some care but they are still beautiful
So many of the doors of private homes made me want to see inside.
I’m pretty sure this was a garage door… a bit nicer than the one on my house.
These were some of the happiest doors we saw.
These beautifully carved doors were just off the main square and provided a backdrop for lots of selfies.

Don’t forget to head on over to Norm’s blog to view his collection of doors, then click on the blue frog at the end of his post to see what others have shared.

GratiTuesday: Translation tools for lazy bones

Although my husband and I made attempts to improve our Spanish language skills on our recent trip to San Miguel de Allende, we fell pretty short of the mark. Fortunately and unfortunately, many of the Mexicans we met spoke at least some English. It was fortunate for obvious reasons, but unfortunate because, rather than practice our Spanish (and hopefully learn more), it was often easier to revert to English for expediency sake.

We came home a little disappointed in ourselves, and we wondered if our struggle to learn Spanish was worth it. First of all, we are old… and lazy… but also, with so many great translation tools available, is it really necessary? Beyond the basic words and phrases everyone should know when they visit a foreign country (please, thank you, how much is this, where is the bathroom, etc.), more complicated translations are now only as far away as your smartphone. A quick search on the googles will get you a list of the best translation apps available and Siri is always ready, willing, and able to come to the rescue in a pinch (she even has a pretty good accent).

Some things don’t require a literal translation to understand the message.
Another message that was pretty easy to translate without a tool (El Grito means “The Scream,” “The Shout,” or “The Cry”… any of which works).

Most apps support multiple languages, and many allow you to either speak the words or type the text you want to translate. Interested in having a conversation but neither party speaks the other’s language? When each person talks into the phone, their words are translated (more-or-less) perfectly. Having trouble reading a sign? Just type in the text and it will be translated at least well enough to get the general idea.

Of course, any translation tool is useless if you can’t read the words you want to translate… I got as far as “‘Life is like a cup of coffee’ It’s all in how…” I have no idea what those last two words are.

One of the easiest – and free – apps we used is Google Translate. In addition to translating multiple languages (multiple meaning over 100) by spoken word or by typing, we used our phones’ camera to “read” text. It isn’t perfect, but it helped us read menus, labels, and signs without having to type the unfamiliar words on the smartphone keypad.

Label on plate in Spanish.
Using Google Translate, my phone’s camera did a pretty good job translating the label.

I imagine that sometime in the future, we could have a chip installed in our brain which would instantly translate all the languages of the world. While that would certainly be convenient, I think much would be lost. Instead of hearing the beauty of different languages, all we would hear are the words in our own language instantly translated as the other person is speaking.

Even though I still believe it is best to at least try to speak the language of the country where you are traveling, I know that is not always possible. For those of us who struggle (and maybe are a little lazy), I am pleased that there are tools available. Although not perfect, if translation apps can help bridge the divides and help us better understand each other, I’m grateful for the assistance.

GratiTuesday: Walkable San Miguel de Allende

Tell someone that you are going to Mexico and often the first things they’ll picture are beautiful sandy beaches, warm ocean water, and sipping margaritas in a cantina. While I have nothing against any of these pursuits – and have happily done all three on past trips – that “Mexican experience” never felt very authentic to me.

Our five-week trip to the city of Oaxaca last year was the first time we visited an area of the country that wasn’t next to a large body of water… and we loved it. After that experience, we were anxious to explore other parts of Mexico’s interior, and San Miguel de Allende was high on our list of possibilities.

San Miguel de Allende is a small colonial town located in Mexico’s semi-arid central highlands. It is known for its charming atmosphere, historical architecture, vibrant culture, and artsy expatriate community. The region is also known as the cradle of the Mexican independence movement and San Miguel was the birthplace of many of its heroes, including the city’s namesake, Ignacio Allende.

According to local history, the self-taught draftsman who designed the facade based his design on a postcard depicting a French Gothic cathedral.

The most famous landmark in San Miguel is La Parroquia (which simply means parish church), a neo-gothic church whose pink sandstone facade, towering spires, and pointed arches preside over the lively town square.

One benefit of slow travel (staying in one place for an extended period) is being able to explore with a relaxed schedule. Many mornings, we just picked a direction and walked. We could hardly turn a corner without finding an interesting scene: a beautiful old church, an intriguingly narrow walkway, richly painted facades, or a street vendor selling everything from colorful trinkets and toys to straw hats and flowered hair pieces.

I bought a hat from him on the condition that I could take his picture.
Women in traditional dress sell their wares to tourists.
Templo de la Inmaculada Concepcion
A horse-drawn carriage transporting newlyweds to their reception.
Dos amigos enjoying a rest.
The Bellas Artes courtyard is the perfect spot to relax and cool off. 

It was hard not to be constantly looking around as we walked San Miguel’s streets, but it was also important to be aware of where we were stepping… the narrow sidewalks and cobblestone streets made turning an ankle or tripping a very real possibility.

It was important to watch where we were walking.

Much of what there is to do, see, eat, and experience in San Miguel can be accessed by foot. For anything outside of walking range, there are plenty of options such as the ubiquitous green taxis, Uber, and hired drivers. We enjoyed being car-free for the seven weeks we were there and, although I didn’t bring my Fitbit, I am confident that I easily met my daily goal of 10,000 steps… and then some.

We learned the importance of taking it slow and staying hydrated.
More stairs!
The evening’s golden hour paints a picture with light.
You can see the spires of the Parroquia peeking out from behind the dome.
An early morning balloon flight.
The Parroquia could be seen from all over the city.

My husband and I love to walk, and I am very grateful that we are fit enough to navigate the sometimes hilly terrain. San Miguel is a city best enjoyed by foot.

Housesitting and the Importance of Saying Yes

It all started with an invitation… and we weren’t even the ones being invited. My brother and sister-in-law had dinner with friends who suggested they visit San Miguel de Allende, a colonial town in the center of Mexico. These friends manage vacation rental property in San Miguel and they thought B & SIL would enjoy the beautiful city.

Convinced, B & SIL decided to book a 2-week stay beginning July 1 and asked if we’d like to join them. We, of course, said “yes!”

San Miguel de Allende

Then, at my book club meeting, I happened to mention our upcoming trip. One of the members said that she knew someone who lived in San Miguel and when her friend traveled, she often needed a house- and pet-sitter. Would I like to be connected? Ummm… “yes!”

After exchanging a few emails, this friend asked if we’d like to stay in her home the month of June while she was housesitting for someone else in another part of Mexico. Even though we weren’t planning on going to San Miguel until July 1, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up, so we said “yes!”

Once we committed to a 7-week stay in San Miguel – 4 weeks housesitting and 3 weeks in an Airbnb – we contacted good friends of ours who often housesit for us while we are away. Their enthusiastic “yes!” assured us that our house would be well cared for… while we were caring for another person’s house and cat… while that person cared for the house and the dog of another.

Our home away from home.

I follow several blogs written by full- and part-time housesitters and that lifestyle has always intrigued me. Although it can be fun to travel from place to place, slow travel – staying in one location for an extended period – is especially appealing to us. Housesitting makes slow travel extremely affordable because there is seldom any monetary compensation involved. The homeowner knows that their home and, if they have one, their pet will be well taken care of, and the sitter enjoys the comforts and convenience of staying in a home for little or no cost.

I’m pretty sure that this won’t be the last time we will housesit when we travel. I’ve already checked out a few of the housesitting websites for opportunities (there are tons) and the homeowner (and now our friend) in San Miguel has assured us that we are welcome to sit for her again when she travels.

There are lots of lodging alternatives when traveling today. In addition to traditional hotels, we have other options such as Airbnb, home exchanges, and housesitting. Each has their pluses and minuses, benefits, and trade-offs. The important thing is to research the various alternatives, consider your personal preferences, and, most important, choose to say “yes!”