A Very Colonial Christmas

by Lola

Piñata‘Tis the season, and I’m sitting in my office during my break, squirming with serious ants in my pants. That’s because tomorrow, Friday, I officially leave on my official vacation–the first one in about 15 years. I’m currently employed in a brick-and-mortar office, ensconced in a brick-and-mortar chair behind a brick-and-mortar desk–for the first time in 15 years. Before this, I was a not-necessarily-carefree independent contractor, who nonetheless enjoyed the flexibility of the “independent” part of her title, but was always on-call. Weekends, holidays–all one and the same.

Now, however, I find myself in the enviable position of being able to put an “out of office” message on my company e-mail and one of those “I’m gone and you can’t reach me ha-ha” messages on my company phone. Woo hoo!

The best part is: we’re going to Querétaro for Christmas! For two weeks! To my mamá’s house!!! We’ll land in Mexico City for a couple of days (yes, Simmonds, I will think of you while I eat my taquitos) then off on the first-class ETN bus for about 3 hours to Querétaro.

International Terminal MEX 2By the way, I just wanted to make it clear that I’m a single mom who is willing to travel alone to Mexico City and board a bus for a three-hour trip with a small child. And even though I speak the language, I’m white enough to be called güera, and I do it because, yes, it’s safe and comfortable. The airport is large and very busy, but everything is clearly marked, and for a couple of dollars you can get a nice skycap in uniform to wheel your luggage over to the airport bus station (no need to leave the premises) and board a clean, air-conditioned bus with comfortable seats, blackout curtains and a movie. I have done this multiple times, beginning when my daughter was still a toddler, without incident. So ladies: it’s doable. Plus there’s great shopping at the airport’s international terminal–and a Starbucks.

We’re headed to Querétaro, one of UNESCO’s lovely World Heritage appointees. While now more a small city than a town, the historic center of Querétaro has been lovingly restored and is an integral part of life today. It’s where friends and family gather for coffee, good food and people watching, where young people meet up for a drink, where shoppers wander the little stores in search for that perfect gift, and where parents sit by the fountains and watch their children run around the park.

Plaza de la Constitucion

During Christmas, the city government sets up giant Nativity scenes complete with every animal known to Mexicans and the Magi astride their respective beasts (I’ll take some pictures when I get there). The parks are filled with vendors hawking balloons and all kinds of ingenious little toys that cost just a few pesos each–there’s nothing quite like the imagination of a toymaker who needs to put food on his table. He’ll make a toy out of anything. Last time we went I bought my daughter a “comet ball”, which was basically just a rubber ball with a few silver streamers tucked into a small slash in its side. You bounce it hard and I swear it looks like a tiny comet shooting hither and yon. The entire park looked like a meteor shower in progress with kids laughing and chasing their little shiny treasures all over the place. I think I still have it somewhere, though a few of the streamers are missing.

Stairs at La Casa de la MarquesaThis is truly a great place to spend a traditional Mexican Christmas. I’m blessed to have my family here, but–as is true throughout the country–locals are more than happy to welcome visitors who want to join in the festivities. There are several great places to stay in and around town, though for my money, I’d rather stay where the cobblestone streets meet the colonial facades… La Casa de la Marquesa is an exquisite little jewel of a place right in the heart of the colonial downtown. It’s the ideal place to soak up some of the city’s fascinating history and really get a feel for life in Querétaro–all you have to do is step outside the front door. The lovely Doña Urraca shares the Marquesa’s privileged location. It also has an outstanding wine collection, just FYI.

San Miguel at nightMexico is blessed with more than its fair share of colonial treasures like Querétaro, many of them reachable in just a few hours from the Mexico City airport via the wonderful, first-class bus service. In fact, San Miguel de Allende, beloved of ex-pats everywhere, is only 45 minutes from Querétaro, or an additional hour or so on the bus. It’s another one of my favorite colonial cities and a must on my list of things to do when I go a mama’s house for the holidays. It’s home to the famous Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, an amazing pink granite church that looks like an ornate wedding cake fronting the main zócalo, known as El Jardín by the locals. There are a ton of little shops nearby, mostly upscale, some great galleries (it’s an artist and writer’s colony at heart), and a lot of very yummy restaurants. A stay there is highly recommended.

I want to talk more about things to do in and around Querétaro, but my break is coming to an end. I’ll check in with you guys after I’m there and give you some more for your list of “Stuff I Must Do In 2008”.

I guarantee this is one resolution you’ll want to keep.

PS: For those of you who speak Spanish and want more info on Querétaro, check out this great sitio queretano http://dondeweb.com.mx/