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.

GratiTuesday: Walkie-Talkies

Walking is my favorite form of exercise and, fortunately, our neighborhood offers safe places to walk along with a reasonable number of hills. My regular 1-hour, 3-mile walk is the perfect time and distance to listen to one of my favorite podcasts. But, as much as I enjoy listening to This American Life, the Ted Radio Hour, or Planet Money, I usually prefer to walk with a partner… and my favorite walking partner is my husband.

Walking gives us a chunk of uninterrupted time to just talk. Our discussions range from mundane household topics to plans for upcoming events to political and social issues. But, whatever we talk about, there are no computer screens, phone calls, or other distractions competing for our attention. It’s just us and whatever we want to talk about… or not. I enjoy just walking together in silence too.

I am grateful that my husband likes to join me on my walks and that we both relish the time we can spend just being together.

Spanning seven urban bridges, 4 – 7

In my last Spanning seven urban bridges post, I wrote about a recent hike my husband and I took called the Seven Bridge Walk. The 5.5 mile hike traverses through several older neighborhoods in our city and crosses over a mix of historic and newer bridges. That post featured the first three bridges we crossed; the four remaining bridges are just ahead…

Quince Street

The Quince Street walking bridge is a wooden-trestle bridge that was built in 1905. It is 236 feet long and rises 60 feet over Maple Canyon. Although the cost for the original construction was less than $1,000, the cost to repair the bridge in 1988/1989 was closer to $250,000. Even though I knew the bridge was in good repair, it was a little unnerving to look over the sides and see what looked like a hodge-podge of wooden planks holding it up.

Spruce1

Probably my favorite bridge on our walk is the Spruce Street suspension bridge located in the Bankers Hill neighborhood. It was constructed in 1912 to serve as a passageway for early residents to get to the newly built trolley lines. The bridge stretches 375 feet across and rises 70 feet above Kate Sessions Canyon, named after a horticulturist responsible for many of the plantings found throughout the city. The bridge swayed a little as we walked along it, but it didn’t feel dangerous at all.

After stopping for lunch in the always interesting neighborhood of Hillcrest, we next reached the Vermont Street Bridge. This modern steel bridge was built in place of a deteriorated wooden trestle bridge that dated back to 1916. Rather than replace the beloved original bridge with a merely utilitarian passage, local residents fought for something more interesting and reflective of the two neighborhoods it connects. As we walked over the bridge, we read walking-themed quotes written by people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Kate Sessions, Pythagoras, and even long-time San Diego resident, Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Can you figure out the word puzzle?

Craftsman

As we journeyed towards our next bridge, we passed through an older neighborhood dotted with beautiful craftsmen bungalows. I imagine an artist lives in this one.

Georgia1

Finally, we reached our seventh and last bridge: the historic but hazardous Georgia Street Bridge. A redwood bridge was originally built here in 1907, but it was replaced in 1914. The “new” concrete Georgia Street Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I’ve heard that it is scheduled for an $11 million dollar overhaul, including seismic and structural retrofits… hopefully they will begin soon before the bridge crumbles apart.

After crossing our final bridge, we zig-zagged a bit more, then headed back along Park Boulevard towards Balboa Park and our car. At 5.5 fairly flat miles, the walk wasn’t too strenuous but it was a lot of fun and, when we were finished, we felt a little like we had also traveled through time.

Spanning seven urban bridges, 1 – 3

One of my very favorite things to do is to get out and walk. I enjoy walking for exercise either by myself or with a friend. I love to walk the hills of my neighborhood, or go down to the bay and walk along the shore, or up to the local mountains and hike the trails. I also enjoy walking as a way to discover hidden gems in unfamiliar places. Walking allows me to see the small details I would miss if I was in a car, or even on a bike. When I’m not trying to raise my heart rate, the less hurried pace allows me to observe my surroundings and to stop and take a closer look or snap a picture.

A while ago, I read about an urban hike in our city called the Seven Bridge Walk and was intrigued. The hike is about 5.5 miles long and meanders through several older neighborhoods and crosses over a mix of historic and newer bridges. The walk sounded like the perfect combination of exercise, sightseeing, and  a bit of history, so I filed it away as something to do in the spring.

Finally, last Tuesday, my husband and I decided it was the perfect day to put on our walking sandals and go.

This was the trunk of a very strange tree.
This was the trunk of a very strange tree.

The route begins on the east side of Balboa Park, near the succulent and cactus gardens. After spending some time playing in looking at the plants, we crossed the first – and shortest – of the seven bridges.

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This concrete walking bridge was built fairly recently to provide safe passage over a busy street. The bridge has a graceful design and it was a nice way to enter Balboa Park, San Diego’s jewel and the nation’s largest urban cultural park (which deserves—and will get—its own, separate post).

Cabrillo_Bridge

Continuing west along El Prado through the middle of the park, we reached the majestic Cabrillo Bridge. The bridge was constructed in 1914 and is the first multiple-arched cantilever bridge built in California. Although Cabrillo Bridge originally spanned a small lake, cars traveling on State Route 163 now pass underneath its arches.

You can see a downtown high rise, San Diego Bay, and the end of Point Loma off in the distance.

After a few zigs and zags and several stops to take pictures, we reached the third bridge on our walk. Built in 1931, the First Street Bridge is the only steel-arch bridge in the city. It was built in a fabrication plant in the Midwest, dismantled, and then shipped to San Diego to be assembled again.

Come along to see the remaining bridges on our walk in my Spanning seven urban bridges, 4 – 7 post next week.