Dispatch, Puebla: Yearning to return

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Dispatches from Puebla

Mexico editor Gay Nagle Myers is covering Tianguis Turistico in Puebla from March 17 to 20. The event at the Exposition Center is nonstop trade show activity, but Puebla's reputation as a colonial must-see city is sure to pull Gay off the conference floor and out into the historical sites. The two-hour bus ride from the airport in Mexico City to Puebla did afford some springtime previews. Her final dispatch follows. Click to read Gay's first dispatch.

Sad to say, I didn’t see much of Puebla on this trip, other than the inside of the exposition center at Tianguis and my room at La Quinta.

However, I did jump ship early one evening and cabbed it downtown to the Centro Historico after watching the sun set over El Popo from the roof of the hotel.

Cabs aren’t metered. Settle on the peso price before getting in. It’s sort of arbitrary. My trip to the historic district was $8; the return trip from the same corner back to the same hotel lobby was $6.

Puebla is known as the city of angels due to the sounds of church bells that fill the air, or so they say. The only bells I ever heard were on my alarm clock.

Here’s what I did see, and that, plus what I did not see, ensures I will make a return trip.

The Cathedral of Puebla is a magnificent stone structure right off the fountain-filled Zocalo, or main square. It’s so big that it took 74 years from start to finish in 1649.

I read that the artisans wanted a pay raise halfway through, so that delayed construction a while.

The cobble-stoned side streets off the Zocalo are vignettes into the lives and shopping habits of Poblanos, who number five million, making Puebla the fourth-largest city in Mexico.

Dozens of shoe stores line every block. Maybe the cobblestones encourage the frequent purchase of sneakers, because they were prominently displayed in store windows.

Interspersed with shoe displays and jewelry stores were clothing stores with ball gowns hanging next to racks of bathing suits.

Tile-lined facades of houses and buildings were showstoppers. The hand-painted Talavera ceramic tiles, often in a blue-and-white motif, are a Puebla specialty.

I wandered into a small Woolworth department store, circa 1958 in the U.S. Stacks of nonstick frying pans and displays of Easter marzipan treats and trays of limones rellenos de coco (limes filled with candied coconut) took up half of the first floor.

I followed music to a small café called Antojitos Tomy on the corner of Calle del Correo Viejo and Avenida Poniente. Families were seated around tables, being entertained by kids on guitars and banjos.

I must have looked hungry. They invited me to join them, which I did and then got to sample a version of Puebla’s specialty dish, mole poblano, the thick rich chocolate-tinged, chili-flavored sauce that goes on everything from meat and chicken to rice and tortillas.

I dipped a rolled tortilla into a bowl of mole. Full of flavor, sort of spicy and yummy.

When I left after trying to pay and being gestured that that was not happening, I said many “gracias” and “buenas noches” and wandered back to the Zocalo.

The streets, plazas and sidewalk cafes were packed, but there was no litter on the ground, no honking of horns, no unhappy faces.

Here’s some of what I did not get to see and why I will return: the Amparo Museum (full of tiles); the Bazaar of Toads (known for antiquities and antiques, not frogs); the Parian, an art market; the Art District, where tourists can gape at artists at work; and the pyramid of Cholula and Los Remedios Church with El Popo in the background.

So many sights, so little time.

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.

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