The answer to the Germany question has to be the facilities and the infrastructure. The road network is extensive and navigating is straight forward. If you're wondering where to stay many communities provide a Stellplatz to park the motorhome. In order to find them we use the Bord Atlas. A very comprehensive guide book. It's in German but we manage to translate the key words and have found it extremely useful. The link below takes you to the Amazon website where the latest edition may be purchased.
We stopped at a Stellplatz this week at a place called Gangelt. The small town didn't offer much but the park adjoining the Stellplatz was fab. Extensive cycle and walking paths and a nature park. I was transported straight back to one of my childhood favourites here on the border with the Netherlands and not on our border with Scotland, which is where I saw them last. Yes, a herd of Highland Cattle
And now for the Spain question. We have just heard from friends that the motorhome parking at Platja D'Aro on the Costa Brava has been closed down. One of our favourites. Why? I have come across an article stating the intent of the Spanish Authorities to provide more appropriate facilities for the motorhoming community. It was published in 2006 but in the current recession I would have thought it would be in the best interest of councils to encourage as many visitors as possible.
While we were staying in Platja in March our friends Peter and Chris who live just down the road in L'Estartit told us of attempted armed robberies in their community. An invasion of police were trying to track down the perpetrators. Armed robberies-whatever next? Ironic news after our crime free visit to Mexico. Maybe as a result the police are struggling with manpower issues, or has there been a misdemeanour from a motorhome user? If you know the answer please contact me as we're mystified and disappointed to lose a really great spot to stay in a superb location. The local economy must be suffering as we all used the town and of course, in our case, the dentist.
Our reality is very different to that of most people and we are aware of our good fortune in having the ability to lead the life we have chosen. This doesn't make it any easier when a trip comes to an end. We've had the winter of a lifetime, what with a week in Barcelona, Transatlantic Cruise, a month in Florida, three weeks in Puerto Vallarta and a three week trip across Mexico. However the van needs to be collected from store in Spain and all good things come to an end. A punctuation mark has been created during our journey and enables us to think about where we're off to next.
Our last day in Mexico was spent mooching about our part of the city and packing. Taking it easy was the order of the day as I had booked us a potential nightmare from hell with 4 connecting flights. Mexico City, Panama, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Frankfurt and London Heathrow. But it cost a third of the price, and we had the time. A German air hostess made fun of Mike's shiny hiking boots, calling him Mr. Boots and all went to plan, no lost luggage or delays. The journey was in excess of 32 hours, and I was so tired, the first night I went to bed on our return I slept right through and avoided jet lag.
Two more must see sites in Mexico City are the Museo Nacional de Antropología and the pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan and fortunately we had the time and the inclination to go and have a look at both. The museum lived up to expectation and we spent a whole day there. It was a Sunday and very busy as Mexican citizens get free entry. Inexpensive, very interesting and the cafe was superb. What more could a girl want?
The alarm was set on Monday morning to get to the Pyramids 48km from our hotel, before the heat and the crowds. We wanted to use public transport. It was quite difficult to decipher how to get there using the Lonely Planet but the Wiki Travel Guide was excellent. Most tourists go there on a pre arranged tour but we like to do things independently. We took the metro to Potrero then a local bus. The metro was great. Very jolly music at the stations and lots of different hawkers on the train. I bought a CD, and I'm listening to it now, but that's making me miss Mexico. We didn't need a headset, lollypops, chewing gum, a cook book or any other assorted merchandise. It was easy to navigate on the metro as each of the stations had pictures as well as their names, presumably for anyone who cannot read. A passer by offered help to find the correct bus stop in Potrero. Entertainment on the bus was provided by a guitarist who sang three different songs very well, but if his cough in between was anything to go by our donation should have gone towards a chest x-ray.
Teotihuacan when translated, means the place where the gods were created. It was built between the 1st and 7th centuries A.D. and has huge monuments – in particular, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, laid out alongside the Avenue of the Dead. The Pyramids would have had a temple on top back in the day but they certainly provided enough for us to climb them. If this city had not fallen into disuse the StairMaster would never have needed to be invented. There was also a good museum on site which fitted in nicely with what we had learnt at the Anthropological Museum on Sunday.
The journey back to our part of the city was straightforward but only with the help of a Good Samaritan. There were many forms of transport around the city and as we had used taxis, the metro and the bus I wanted to complete the set and try the Metro Bus. This is a bendy bus network, providing a fast service through the city and has barriered entrances and a platform just like a train. The buses use their own lane and run on the major through roads. Unfortunately we didn't realise we needed a prepaid plastic card to get on. A guard told us the journey would cost 5 Pesos but we didn't want to get a card when we only going to do one journey. Up stepped Pedro, a fellow passenger who said we could pay him the money and he would swipe his card 3 times. We sat at the back and he chatted to Mike for the whole journey which took Mike's mind off feeling travel sick. It was a very bouncy ride, just like a fairground. Pedro got off the stop before us and raced away as I think we had made him late for work.
As is the norm with everything in life, you don't know what a place is going to be like until you get there. That's why I try hard not to let my imagination get going before I arrive. We had heard and read stuff about Mexico City. A population over 21 million, pollution, a large geographical area, crime, drug taking, fancy restaurants, cathedral, historic old town, museums, ancient sites. Looking at that list makes it no different to any other city we have visited, apart from the population, as the greater metropolitan area qualifies it as the third biggest in the world. As we approached the outskirts I could see the grey houses spreading out over the hillsides, mainly single storey dwellings made out of concrete breeze blocks.
More photos of our Mexico trip here
We pre paid our taxi at the booth in the coach station and as our driver spoke a bit of English and us a bit of Spanish he was able to point things out along the way and we all spoke Spanglish. Our hotel was in the Zona Rosa, a busy area with lots of bars, clubs, shops and restaurants. It was mainly pedestrianised and first impressions were favourable. For our first meal we found a restaurant packed with Mexicans called the Casa de Tono and when we saw that Cochinita Pibil was on the menu we were lured straight in off the street. This is my favourite Mexican dish, and we make it at home. To end this great start to the visit our hotel was located in a quiet street so we had the best sleep, in the place we least expected it.
Poor Mike has had toothache again, the same tooth he had filled twice in Spain back in October last year. He hadn't complained about it but after a day wandering around San Miguel De Allende and after visiting lots of churches he finally gave in and admitted to having toothache. He had hoped to hang on until we got back to the UK but the gum looked swollen and felt 'spongy' when he prodded it with his tongue. As we had another day in San Miguel we decided if he needed anything doing it would be better to get it sorted that afternoon to give him an extra rest day on day two rather than having to sit on the coach to Mexico City feeling rough. The concierge at the hotel was incredibly kind and helpful and managed to locate an English speaking dentist. The hotel overall had been a bit of a Fawlty Towers experience so I was very relieved when she got the dentist herself on the phone who agreed to see Mike that evening. Mike ended up having his molar extracted because it was beyond saving. This is really sad because the roots were healthy, the tooth itself in an advanced state of decay because a dentist somewhere had left a dressing in!
So, how was San Miguel De Allende? Different again to our other Mexican stop overs. The buildings were painted in lovely terracotta and yellow hues and the houses looked very Spanish. The town has been settled by many expats from Canada and the USA and is known for its artists and jewellery. Our hotel was an eclectic experience but that was not a problem.
Photographs around the town here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page when you get there.
The last stage of our Mexico trip has now begun. We arrived in Mexico City a couple of hours ago, our arrival delayed by roadworks. So far all looks good and it's Friday night, so we're out to hit the town.
While we were in Puerto Vallarta we took the opportunity to pick the brains of people we met to find out good places to stop as we crossed Mexico. Our informers suggested Guadalajara as the capital of Jalisco state, described as the heart of Mexico. Next up Morelia, capital of Michoacán state and a UNESCO world heritage city with fabulous, well preserved colonial architecture. It didn't disappoint, in fact I can safely say it was love at first site. We arrived in the late afternoon and the buildings were bathed in the gorgeous light of sunset which enhanced the slightly pink hue of the cathedral. Our hotel had been a building associated with the church in previous times. It was located right in the centre of town, almost opposite the cathedral. We stayed for 4 nights over the weekend and the atmosphere in town was lively at night, enhanced by the large student population, and very family oriented during the day. The central square was continually packed with families relaxing in the sunshine. There was no shortage of entertainment either with colourfully dressed folk singers and performers taking to a wooden stage for Sunday afternoon and evening. Everyone we met was so cheerful and relaxed, if they spoke English they were very helpful and welcoming too. Having seen less than half a dozen Gringo faces over the 5 day period made us feel like exclusive tourists, which we like.
All the buildings in the city are well preserved and hardly any restoration has been necessary as they have been looked after so well.
Click here to see more photos of our Mexico trip
Mike and I have enjoyed using the local bus service since we first arrived in Mexico. A standard flat fare of 6 or 7 pesos (28p) has covered a single fare for each journey we have taken.These buses are at the other end of the evolutionary scale to the elite coach described in my last entry. Hard plastic seats and non existent suspension give the impression of a square wheeled bus. Initially I assumed the driver for our return from Tlaquepaque this afternoon was struggling with the clutch as he was accelerating quickly and shuddering to a very abrupt standstill at each bus stop. It didn't matter if an elderly person with a stick was standing to get off, everyone received the same rough treatment. However, when another bus pulled out and cut him up, road rage took over and after our man raced to overtake he stopped our bus to block the other one, taking up two lanes of the dual carriageway. He then got out and he went to punch the other driver while he was still sat at the wheel. Harsh words and raised voices ensued and our driver returned to the bus. This did not calm him down and us passengers continued to be thrown about inside, I was the only one who found it funny, everyone else wore the same deadpan expressions, which made me laugh even more. Their look seemed to say, 'Goddam Gringos, laughing at us all.'
Our visit to Tlaquepaque had by contrast been very restful. A neat little suburb of Guadalajara famous for artisans and craft shops, it provided a very pleasant place for a stroll and for me to try the Torta Ahogada, (wet sandwich). This turned out to be chunks of roast pork in a half baguette with hot chilli sauce poured over, served with raw onions and lime. Quite delicious. Another new taste sensation, experienced yesterday was the Michelada Beer. This was served in a frosted mug with a salted rim and ice cubes. At the base of the glass was about 50mls of black sauce made with Worcestershire Sauce (salsa Inglesa), tabasco, liquid gravy browning (Maggi) and lime. I also enjoyed this, although I know it doesn't sound too good but it took the taste away of the accidentally ordered assorted carnitas, consisting of finely chopped pork from all parts of the animal (brain, trotter and snout included). Suitable punishment for being a carnivore.
Although the urban sprawl of Guadalajara spreads over 100sq miles it has proved to have a fine old city of pedestrian walkways, fountains, churches and plazas. There is even a temporary ice skating rink set up behind the cathedral. The shops are roughly divided into clusters selling the same thing, everything from wedding frocks to boom boxes. The whole city centre has free wifi and the council has thoughtfully provided outdoor electrical sockets for people to use. Tomorrow we're off to Morelia and tonight I will be sampling more delicious street food.
In a country where tyre specialists guarantee wheel alignment for 5 minutes after leaving the garage, we were understandably a bit apprehensive about the ride quality for our first Mexican bus journey. Make way for Primera Plus, the gold coloured buses. The hydraulic suspension was soft so the bus wallowed along the very curvaceous route but all settled down again when we got to the four lane highway. The road had been recently resurfaced which helped.This is a first class bus line and we were given a sandwich and choice of soft drink as we boarded. The cheese and ham was from the same gene pool as the packaging, but it filled a gap.
All in all an excellent 5 star service, which couldn't have been more straight forward. There was even a pre pay taxi service at the coach station in Guadalajara, which saved us battling to find a bus. So Guadalajara it is, the capital of Jalisco Province, birthplace of Mariachi music and tequila. Visit due to commence after Mike's siesta. My oh my, this is hot off the press.
A big thank you to Mark and Ivan, a swell party that lasted 3 whole weeks and with luck it won't be too far into the future until we meet again somewhere in the world. They also gave us the opportunity to see Joann, Mitch and David again, without whom we'd have never met the boys in the first place. And finally, a toast to the new friends we made in PV, you made us feel so welcome.
"Ever been on a zipline before, Ali?"
"Yes, no problem"
Was it scary Ali?"
"Not at all, really enjoyed it"
But that was in 2009, Go Ape, Thetford Forest and it really had not prepared me, as I had believed for the Canopy River zipline experience in Puerto Vallarta. I was zooming along at over 40km per hour high over the jungle and the Cuale River Valley below, over 300m away. That part wasn't scary, it was the approach to the landing platform as I thought I could never stop in time. I went with Mike, Ivan and his nephew David. Mike is an adrenaline junkie and was happy to complete one zip upside down but I shook like a leaf off the canopy each time I completed a run. 12 of these and a ride on a mule to take you back to the top afterwards. A great afternoon out but I certainly did face my fear that day and Go Ape in Thetford? Kindergarten.
Look at the photos below for some great facial expressions. Double click to enlarge and see the caption
Puerto Vallarta centre is just a 10 minute drive from the house and we haven't tired of it. It is a busy seaside resort frequented by American, Canadian and Mexican tourists. Originally a small fishing village, the population has swelled to over 200, 000 in recent times. It was put on the map in the 1960's by the American Film Industry as The Night of The Iguana was filmed here, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. This is the best time of year to visit weather-wise and many of Mark and Ivan's friends spend the winter here. This has meant lots of invitations out for meals in restaurants and homes, which we have, unsurprisingly enjoyed very much. Mexican food is delicious and we have eaten in a full range of establishments ranging from a Taco Stand on the roof of an unfinished building to 5 star fine dining. Mark tells me if I write enough reviews on Trip Advisor I could get a free luggage label. Woo, hoo, I can hardly contain the excitement but I've also got to actually start writing reviews on Trip Advisor first I suppose.
One really fun thing you can do here is take a Panga (water taxi) along the coast to beaches that are inaccessible by road. A group of us were invited to join Bob and Steve, friends of our hosts for a wonderful day out on a boat with lunch at Yelapa Beach.
The following day we took another boat trip out to the Ocean Grill Restaurant, only accessible by boat. The food here was good enough to entice Mark to join us as he won't normally get on anything smaller than a cruise ship. I ate their speciality octopus, which was delicious. Yes, and tender, no rubberyness at all. A visit to the toilet here is also a must due to the view.
I love travel, any type. There is always a buzz in finding & exploring a place for the first time, meeting and making new friends and if you return things are never quite the same.
Going away? Travel essentials from across Amazon
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