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Christmas in SMA 🙂
Bright blue skies; a picture perfect climate; the usual chaotic excitement of latin american street life; vendors vending, children playing and their elders watching on in the (quite literally) pulsing heart of the city – “El Jardin” (The Garden)… the main tree-lined park in the centre of SMA; a huge glittering Christmas tree gracing the cobbled square in front of the fabulous pink limestone Parroquia (the parish church of SMA); ankle-twisting, bone-breaking cobblestone streets; 17th and 18th century Spanish colonial architecture; a family of gorgeous living, breathing sheep in the nativity scene in the park 🙂 ; handmade chilli chocolates; kids bouncing their prized 10 foot pencil shaped balloons as far into the air as they could manage; sweet and fruit sellers on street corners; vendors blowing bubbles for the tiny kids to play in; buckets of spicy fried crickets – seemingly irresistible to Geoff (he never seems to learn his street food lesson 😉 ); church bells ringing day and night (thankfully we packed earplugs); a Christmas Eve bride and groom on horseback serenaded by elaborately clad mariachi singers; Santa on a moped zipping through the backstreets; locals posing for photos in the square on a bored-looking burro sporting giant sunglasses 😉 ; more handmade chilli chocolates; a weekly organic farmers market with attendant “fast food” taco and burrito stalls – Geoff tested them out as anticipated (I believe it only took an hour or so for the swelling in his throat to subside 😉 ) – I stuck with the chilli chocolates 😉 ; shiny star-shaped piñatas hanging from the plazas… colored paper decorations strung across the streets; verdant courtyard cafes with twinkly lights and elegantly decorated trees; music bands and street entertainment in the square; quaint and cozy coffee shops squeezed into corners of the restored rows of casitas and mansions; bougainvillea draped roof terraces; doors and windows embellished with intricate hand-wrought ironwork; art galleries; and row upon row of immaculately renovated casitas in shades of burnt orange, ochre and gold; and, amongst many other wonderful things… a plethora of fabulous restaurants… irresistible 🙂
Best of all, of course… not a single giant inflated plastic Santa fresh from the sweatshop factories of China, no palm trees wrapped in colored lights, no “fake snow” lights and no mile marker sticks informing the reader of the distance to the North Pole … utter bliss 🙂
We absolutely loved the Spanish colonial architecture, the parks, plazas, courtyards and cafes. We wandered aimlessly through the artisans market people watching and absorbing the atmosphere… We fell upon secluded courtyards around many corners and took every opportunity to stop for copious amounts of (superb!) coffee and cake… 🙂
San Miguel de Allende is very european in parts and (mainly) without the attendant european doggie doo to inadvertently step into which is just as well as the very hilly cobbled streets are already a death trap of craters, unexpected kerbs and other treacherous obstacles totally unsuitable for my collection of extravagantly high heels 😉 …and, conversely, very un-european in the quality of its air.
Whilst the cloudless ultramarine skies looked pristine, at ground level the fumes from the ancient cars, trucks and buses were absolutely choking… not Cusco, Peru-choking (where it was only possible to breathe through the filter of a handkerchief wedged up each nostril)… but it was pretty close 😉
Christmas Eve in the inspirationally named “The Restaurant” started our vacation in typical disorganized latin american style. Geoff clung to me as I staggered in my dangerously lethal heels in the dark, uphill, leaping canyons in the cobbles, and avoiding inconveniently placed electricity wires and other such extraneous constructions on the notably narrow sidewalks, all the way to this much lauded restaurant, for our anticipated Christmas Eve dinner.
I hobbled in as elegantly as possible on twisted ankles, smiled as beatifically as I could muster and proclaimed in immaculate espanol that we had a reservation for 7.30. We then stood back and waited to be escorted efficienty into the beautiful restaurant with its open air terrace and twinkly lights for a romantic dinner “para dos”.
As the search for our name was taking slightly longer than anticipated I began to wonder what the implication of the inaudible mutterings from the maitre d’ and his check-in girl might be. Suddenly the maitre’d smiled back equally beatifically, apologized (with no hint of sincerity whatsoever) and proclaimed that our names were unfortunately not on the reservation list at all… and what was more, they were fully booked for the night (unsurprisingly).
So… there we are on Christmas Eve – dolled up to the nines on one of the busiest nights of the year in this hugely popular town (not just popular with the substantial ex-pat community but also with visitors from afar and the rather well-heeled from Mexico City) apparently without anywhere to eat 😦
Unwilling to accept my looming vision that we might be left with no alternative but to share a left-over breakfast croissant and a rapidly wilting cucumber for our Christmas Eve gastronomic delight I pressed on with my insistence that we most definitely did have a reservation. Beside me, I could see that Geoff’s lower lip was beginning to twitch in irritation (probably alcohol deprivation) as I scrabbled through my handbag looking for my reservation confirmation. Et voila – there it was! Relieved, I thrust it under the nose of the manager who was beginning to come out in a cold sweat.
However, it transpired that we weren’t quite yet safely through the trees.
Ahhhh… (on examination of my crumpled print-out) – all was now clear – he explained – I didn’t have a confirmed reservation for dinner because my booking had been made online and they weren’t accepting reservations online for Christmas Eve. How unfortunate, I thought, however I couldn’t really care less what the failings of the website booking reservation system might be… my reservation had been made direct on “The Restaurant’s” own website, it came replete with time, date and confirmation number and we were getting hungry… far worse… Geoff (who was beginning to spit feathers) was getting thirsty… 😉
“Well – you coulda fooled me Buster”… (reverting to my very best English)… “as you can clearly see this is a print-out from YOUR website with a confirmation number which clearly states December 24th, 7.30pm Reservation Confirmation for 2 – now seat us pronto and feed me your overpriced 6 course set menu “special evening” dinner, por favor, cos it’s been a long day wandering the cobbled streets and we’re kinda hungry now”.
The conversation continued to rotate much along these lines for a good 10 minutes as the idle rich in their various fineries began to pile up in the entrance behind us looking, initially, flustered and then just plain irritated.
After an infinite time of embarrassment and absolute abdication of responsibility for the failings of their own website booking system (I was barely able to believe that this was all my fault), the manager finally conceded that he might actually HAVE to find us a table because we weren’t showing signs of leaving and there were now audible ripples of discontent behind us from the well heeled americans and the drugs lord from Mexico City with his extended family… not a situation the maitre d’ wished to sustain for long, I’m sure 😉
Suddenly we were whisked away, deposited at the bar and plied with complimentary cocktails (by that stage a blind man could have seen that the atmosphere could only be improved with the provision of alcohol) and we were told we would have a table in 30 minutes. Numerous alcoholic beverages later we were still waiting for our table an hour later by which time we had also (luckily) scoured the fixed price menu for its various offerings. Less fortunately, however, we discovered that the main course options all involved the consumption of the corpses of cute, cuddly, furry, dead animals … Could the evening get much worse?
…a first world problem, of course, but then again we weren’t thrilled at the prospect of spending an arm and a leg in order to simply sip soup and devour dessert (which we’ll get to later… ).
Scuttling back to the maitre’d (who was undoubtedly wishing he hadn’t been so rash as to promise to find us a table at all), Geoff asked what alternatives were offered for those of us who don’t eat cute, cuddly, furry creatures. The answer was – apparently – none… maybe gnocchi if the chef had time to knock some up… (really??) – nope – that wasn’t going to wash so Geoff sent him back to the kitchen to try again.
10 minutes later we were informed that the chef MAY have some scallops in the freezer he could defrost (a similarly unenticing offer)… so back to señor le chef…
A final rifle through the fridge culminated in the offering of salmon and vegetables which we accepted with no hope whatsoever that it would be worth the vastly overpriced fixed price menu for Crimbo Eve… but what are ya gonna do??!
Luckily, we were wrong 🙂 The chef, at least, had some pride in running his kitchen even if the manager could barely care less about customer service 😉
Almost replete, we turned our thoughts to dessert. Offerings on the menu were Chocolate Pot de Crème (a no brainer for me) and Pumpkin Pie (more a dessert of desperation). Imagine our barely disguised delight when the waiter offered us Cheesecake and Pumpkin Pie…
“Well hang on there un momento Miguel but I had set my heart on the Chocolate Pot de Crème so I’ll have one of those, por favor”.
“Ahh… many apologies señora but the kitchen has run out of chocolate dessert” …at 9.30pm?… on the busiest night in the city?… when all the little offspring of the drugs kingpin on the table beside us were simultaneously chatting about ordering the divine sounding Pot de Crème?? We could barely wait to hear the upshot of the conversation when they had to tell their kids that the kitchen had run out of chocky pudding 😉 Not wanting to get caught in the crossfire (literally or figuratively) we quickly ordered the cheesecake and the check and headed home as fast as we could stagger.
Thereafter, however, the week passed smoothly – save for the hobbling up and down the cobblestone paths and roadways which were anything but smooth sailing 😉
7 courses for Christmas Dinner at Zumo the following night (why does anyone need 7 courses?) rather left us unable to consume anything more until the following evening when we met with a work colleague of Geoff’s from Mexico City and his wife at the swanky Rosewood Hotel. Many Mexican Flag Tequilas were imbibed (the boys may have been in competition)… as were many restorative cups of coffee the following day 😉
The only time we could be bothered to tear ourselves away from wandering the streets of the old city or sharing a ringside park bench with the other oldies at El Jardin watching the world go by, we headed uphill (on the morning of our penultimate day) to the Botanical Garden “El Charco” to catch some fresher air than the usual 2 stroke truck engine fumes 😉
El Charco is a proudly vaunted area of natural beauty in the hills above the city which brought to mind the wild scrubland of New Mexico (perhaps unsurprisingly) or Arizona (but without the billowing trash)… a reservoir previously supplying the city, a diminutive canyon and many, many enormous cacti …it was a relief to breathe freely again but not desperately exciting…
Still, our final afternoon passed perfectly – we managed to squeeze in even more chilli chocolates, kill a few hours in our favorite verdant courtyard cafe and enjoy final cocktails watching the sun set on the gloriously pink Parroquia from the rooftop terrace of our casita 🙂
Adios Mexico! Hasta luego 🙂