Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Overnight Trips to Guanajuato & Zacatecas

We had originally planned to only spend a few weeks in San Miguel and then move RVs over to Guanajuato, but when Ursula needed to fly to Germany for a few weeks to assist her mom, we decided to take advantage of Hotel San Ramon's excellent monthly rates, keep our RVs parked in San Miguel, and just take overnight trips with the Tracker to visit other nearby cities.

When Ursula's return flight from Germany was scheduled to land at the León airport at midnight, Guanajuato became our first overnight trip away from the RVs.

While a charming boutique hotel in Guanajuato's historic city center would have been idyllic, it would not be practical for this visit as we needed car parking and an easy way to drive to/from the airport at midnight to pick up Ursula.

So, after a quick search of Booking.com, I found a hotel that seemed to meet all our needs-- fairly new, modern, good reviews, free garage parking, less than US$30 a night, and right on the main road with easy access to the airport.  Ursula and Hans concurred that Flamingos Auto Hotel looked like a winner, so we booked 2 rooms.

When Hans and I arrived to the hotel that afternoon, we soon began to realize that this was not your typical American-style car traveler's motel.  There was a "toll gate" kinda thing at the entrance, with a speaker to talk into.  The woman on the other end only spoke rapid Spanish.  After a few minutes of my futile attempts to communicate, she said a bilingual man would come out to talk to us.  As we waited, we read the sign next to the gate-- 2 sets of prices were quoted: one for the night, the other for just 6 hours!  Hans snickered.

Soon, a manager appeared speaking perfect English, knew that we had reservations for the night, and brought us our room keys.  This was a very odd hotel layout like none we'd ever seen before.  Rooms were all on the 2nd floor with individual, private 2-car garages beneath each room.  You actually could only enter your room through your garage.  "OK, whatever," I thought.  At least it was quiet-- we seemed to be the only guests staying at the hotel from what we could see.

Hans and I took our suitcases to our respective rooms before meeting up to tour the town for a bit.  My room was clean and very large, with a big king-sized bed and flat screen TV.  I flipped through the channels for a few minutes to see if there might be any in English.  Nada.  But, curiously, there was one channel that needed no language...a porn channel!  Holy smokes!!!

When Hans and I reconvened, it finally dawned on us that this was not your typical travelers' hotel, but a high-end, discrete sex motel-- a place for executives to take their buxom mistresses for an afternoon delight!  When I looked back on Booking.com, I was now able to see the subtle hints-- one of the room photos featured candles and rose petals around a jacuzzi tub; and one of the many hotel features listed it as "Adults Only."  Oh well, too late to change hotels now-- it's only for one night.

Hans and I spent a few hours walking around old Guanajuato to kill some time as we waited for Ursula's plane.  The city looked pretty much unchanged from when I'd been here last in 2014.  The tunnels beneath the town were still as much fun to drive through, and the small plazuelas still oozed with sophisticated charm making one feel as if they were in Italy rather than Mexico.

The glorious Basílica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora was still as impressive from the inside as it was from the outside.  During this visit, we even happened to see it during a Mass with chandeliers lit.

The area around Jardín de la Uníon was still the place to go for great music and food.  Hans and I had a very nice meal at La Bohemia in between our strolls around the tiled sidewalks of the Jardín listening to musicians.

After a quick rest back at the hotel, we headed out to pick up Ursula from the airport.  She, thankfully, arrived on-time, without any Customs hassles, and most-importantly, came loaded up with German chocolate goodies to soothe our sweet tooths!

We awoke the next day well-rested (no wild neighbors having parties that night at the sex motel!).  With gloomy clouds overhead and rain in the forecast, we decided to skip another day of touring Guanajuato and just return to the comforts of our RV homes in San Miguel.

After resting up for a week, we headed out on our next overnight road trip to the wealthy colonial mining city of Zacatecas, about 4 hours northwest of San Miguel.  This time, we knew better than to book the "Auto Motel" on the edge of town, and instead went with the Hotel Meson de la Merced in the historic city center.  This hotel had good reviews on Booking.com, rooms were under $40 a night, and they offered free parking for the Tracker.  Perfecto!

Zacatecas is higher in elevation than San Miguel, so it was about 10 degrees cooler-- just enough to make room heating a requirement!  When we first checked in, the young English-speaking desk clerk gave us rooms on the 1st floor that faced the interior lobby.  Noisy and with no windows!  So, we quickly returned to get new room assignments.  This time, we got rooms on the 3rd floor with lovely city views.  All seemed fine at first.  But after 30 minutes of waiting for the room to warm up, I realized that the old heating system was not functioning.  Back down to the lobby, I happened to find Hans and Ursula also there requesting a new room for the same reason!  Finally, our third room assignments were the charm-- 4th floor, great city views, and each with new, fully-functioning heaters!

We finally headed out to start exploring the city by mid-afternoon.  The architecture of the city center was lovely.  Similar, but slightly less grand than Guanajuato.

We explored the Parroquia de Santo Domingo, a lovely old church on a hilltop--

The largest church in town, the Catedral Basílica de Zacatecas, was closed to the public on this day, so we could only admire it from the outside, but the stone carved columns adorning the front facade of the church were quite impressive.

As lovely as this city is to photograph during the day, it's even more impressive at night due to an abundance of sidewalk lights illuminating the buildings.  Take a look at these "day vs. night" comparisons--

As the "blue hour" descended and the buildings illuminated, I began snapping away like a mad woman.  Poor (bored) Hans and Ursula, forgive me!  But it was a magical evening to behold--

After a pleasant dinner at a nearby café, and a restful night's sleep, we returned back to San Miguel the next day via the town of Aguacalientes.  Maybe we were all toured out by that point, or perhaps the traffic jam in the center of town soured our moods, but none of us felt the need to stop and explore the town--it simply could not match the charms of Zacatecas, Guanajuato, or San Miguel.  I didn't even stop to take pictures!

Apart from a few surprises at the hotels, we enjoyed being able to tour nearby towns without the RVs for these overnight trips.  Certainly a great way to mix it up and add some variety to our trip!


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