MĂ©rida or Bust — Day Eight: Matehuala, SLP, to Xalapa, Veracruz

Total Kilometres to Drive: 5,600 (change because I need to fire my GPS)

Kilometres Driven Today: 850ish (at least 50 and maybe as much as 100 don’t count)

Total Kilometres Driven: 4,280

Kilometres Left: 1,320 (ish)

Amount of Trip Completed: 76.43% (ish)

My Garmin, Google Maps, and Mexican road signage were all smoking crack today apparently.

Until 4PM today, I thought I wouldn’t have anything worth writing about today. Now, I’m two hours out of my way and ready to fire whomever makes Mexican signage as well as Google Maps and my Garmin. But let me start from the beginning…

I slept all right in Matehuala and got an earlish start around 7:15. I stopped at an Oxxo for a coffee and then just drove… The landscapes were pretty uninspired, just mountainous. I could have been anywhere. I took the Arco Norte bypass around Mexico City and got to Puebla almost an hour earlier than expected, 4PM. I was feeling really good and decided that I might as well push on to give myself a shorter day tomorrow…

Before I knew it, I was going around in circles in downtown Puebla. To my amazement, I was super calm and not at all stressed out. For some reason, I seem to have taken to the defensive form of Mexican driving like the proverbial duck to water. I finally got back on a highway and my GPS assured me that I was still headed towards Villahermosa. The directions looked good as per my paper map as well.

The road I was on was really good and would put me in Xalapa by quarter to seven at the latest, giving me a full hour before dark to find a hotel. Perfect!

Well, my day finally turned into an adventure. I was about half way to Xalapa from Puebla when my gas gauge did that lovely thing it does sometimes and went from telling me I had a full quarter tank of fuel left to running on fumes to giving me the you need fuel NOW light. I was going up and down so much I had no way to gauge just how far I could go on what I had. No problem, my GPS promised me there were several Pemexes nearby…

All of which were on the wrong side of an impassable median.

Mercifully, I had something like a 20KM downhill stretch into Xalapa. I literally just coasted into the first Pemex I found as I came into the city.

I had almost no cash left by this point because of the ridiculous amount of tolls I had to pay again today (haven’t totalled them all up yet, but just the Arco Norte was $330). The attendant tried my credit card, but that didn’t work. He told me there was a Banamex “that way” where I could get cash, so off I went. No problem getting money, but big problem getting back to the Pemex for lack of a way to get around an impassable median. Seriously. By the time I found two retornos, one to go back the way I’d come and one to swing back to the Pemex, my needle was beyond the red. Thankfully, I made it into the gas station at the nick of time and I took on a full $1,000 of fuel. I had about five litres left of fuel!

It was 6:45 by this point and I wasted an hour driving around Xalapa looking for my hotel. My GPS was absolutely useless and kept taking me into parts of town I had no business being in and telling me to turn where I couldn’t, etc. It was really frustrating that I knew which hotel I wanted to go to and passed it several times, but it took a full hour to get there! I have to stress that I wasn’t really stressed until about 7:30, when it started to get dark. I just treated my evening like the adventure that it was and savoured it.

By the time I checked into the hotel, I still didn’t know I was as far out of my way as I am. If you look at the map above, I should be in CĂłrdoba. I am really unhappy because I exhausted myself today so that I could get a late start tomorrow. But get this… the only restaurant within walking distance serves… sushi. 😀

I went off to find it where the hotel clerk told me to go and was confused because all I found was a café. Then, I noticed stairs in front of the café, so I went up to find a several empty storefronts. As I was about to dejectedly return to my hotel room, I heard music up a further flight of stairs, so up I went and found the restaurant!

I ordered a Bohemia beer and a spicy tuna roll. The server also brought me a bowl of noodle stir fry on the house to start because I looked hungry! LOL Sorry,Vicki, the pics I took didn’t turn out — it was way too dark. I also had a bowl of chocolate ice cream with hot fudge and a cherry for dessert! 🙂

Yes, I am annoyed by the unexpected detour, but at the same time I’m really pleased with how my day ended up turning out. I mean, I found myself driving like a maniac in two busy city centres without breaking a sweat. I was as relaxed and comfortable as I would have been back in Canada or the US and, most importantly, I got landed somewhere safe before it got dark and I was exhausted.

Really, it wasn’t a bad day and now I get to go through Veracruz, home of my favourite coffee beans. Let’s see if I find some! 😀

I went through so many states today. Still need to tally them all up!

Sushi at Umai and then the Self-Guided Tudor Town of Shrewsbury Tour

I had to finish up a super tedious file today with a very late deadline, so I decided to do half the work this morning, go and have some fun, and then come home to finish. I wanted to be gone all afternoon to have lunch and do two walking tours, so that would mean an outing of 3.5 to 4 hours, the longest I’ve been away from Puppy. Needless to say, I planned my outing with military precision!

I worked steadily to noon with a mid-morning break to give Puppy a walk. Noonish, I gave her lunch, then had a play session to wear her out. Once she’d had a bowel movement and pee, she was very happy to go into her crate for a nap. Knowing that she’d had plenty of exercise and was being left with a fully tummy and empty bladder, I felt comfortable leaving her. She didn’t even whine as I prepared to head out, which was gratifying.

So first stop was Umai Japanese restaurant. I haven’t had a proper sushi meal since MĂĄlaga (and even that was stretching it a bit) and was very overdue, especially since I’ve been having the truly mediocre Tesco stuff to soothe the itch. We’ve been by the restaurant a few times as it’s in the Cross Keys Passage. I doubt I’ll have time to come here for dinner before I leave, but I realised this afternoon that I really should go see Shrewsbury after dark and whether these shuts are as spooky then as I think they would be!

I thought the restaurant was just this tiny bit on the shut, but, nope. There’s a large dining room at the rear towards Princess Street.

I went with the ÂŁ12.50 mixed sushi special as that would give me the most bang for my buck. Such specials tend to be at the chef’s discretion, but I really wanted octopus. So I asked if a couple of my five nigiri could be octopus. The server said she could ask, but normally there are no substitutions for the lunch special and octopus is never included. So I was delighted when this beautiful plate came very quickly!

Everything was so fresh and this was the first time I’ve been able to describe the maguro (tuna — dark pink) as “buttery.” Whenever I’ve read that description of the fish, I’ve thought people were off their rockers or there was something wrong with my tastebuds! My only quibble is small, that I got three pieces of salmon sashimi plus a salmon nigiri and salmon isn’t my favourite (I’d rather maguro, but I know that’s much more expensive!). The maki (roll) had crabstick in it, so it wasn’t special, but I loved the masago (the orange stuff round it) as I haven’t had it in a while. The octopus was absolutely perfect and exactly what I hoped it would be.

I was enjoying my last piece of it when the server went to take away my plate and I had to quickly swallow and tell her that I wasn’t done as I still had my ginger left! I always save it for the end so that I don’t walk out with a fishy taste in my mouth. That’s one thing I haven’t missed about Canada, the US, and the UK, how I feel rushed to get out of a restaurant. Anyway, my lunch was YUM and very filling. I couldn’t believe the quality and quantity for the price.

I then walked a short distance to the Shrewsbury Museum, where I bought two more self-guided tour pamphlets, a second one for today and one to save for perhaps Monday. Then, it was time to start my tour of the Tudor Town of Shrewsbury. This was the least value tour as it is very light on stops. It said to plan for two hours, but I think I got it done in 30 minutes!

Here’s their map of the tour (click to embiggen to legible size):

The introduction to the tour from the brochure: “Following a disastrous trade depression in the previous century, Shrewsbury’s fortunes revived in the later Tudor period. The population grew and merchants thrived, especially drapers, the middle-men dealing in woollen cloth. It was a period of great re-building. Shrewsbury is one of the best-preserved Tudor towns in England, with many listed 16th century buildings. In this walk, we will draw your attention to just a few, but hope that you enjoy the Tudor townscapes. All of this is, of course, against a background of medieval buildings, many of which still remain — not just the parish churches, but also many of the commercial buildings.”

So chronologically speaking, this tour comes after the medieval one. The first stop is the Tudor exhibit in the museum, where we’ve already been.

Next up, I got all my questions, and then some, answered about the Old Market Hall I have passed a kazillion times. It’s right in front of the museum/music hall.

The Old Market Hall “was built in 1596 by the powerful Guild of Drapers who chose to use stone, which is slightly unusual since most market halls of this era were timber-framed. Tuscan columns support the first floor, where there was a chamber for Welsh cloth dealers and Shrewsbury drapers to meet and negotiate prices.

“The covered area beneath was for the sale of corn. In the far left corner, note the tally stone used to record or document quantities or prices.

“The Square had been the market place since the 13th century, long before the Market Hall was built, and milk and vegetables continued to be sold here until 1868 when the general market was built.”

There are many decorations around the hall.

“On the west side, the large coat of arms with the Tudor dragon and the English lion belongs to Elizabeth I, who was reigning when the building was erected.”

The hall was restored in 2001-2 and is now a café and cinema. You can go upstairs to see the roof.

Directly across from the Old Market Hall, on High Street, is “Owen’s Mansion, built in 1592. Richard Owen was a prominent woollen cloth merchant and this was his prestigious house, in the centre of the commercial area.

“This is a good place to note the curved braces, a shallow S, used to strengthen the frame and the quatrefoils, 4-pointed designs. These and the carving of timbers to form cable mouldings are typical of the Shrewsbury school of carpentry. … the finials depict a warrior and his lady.”

Across the street is Ireland’s Mansion. “This was described by Sir Nikolaus Pevner, the 20th century writer on art and architecture, as the ‘Grandest timber framed house in Shrewsbury.’ This massive building, tall, broad, and symmetrical, was constructed in 1575 for commercial purposes by Robert Ireland, another wealthy wool merchant. It was three different houses, with shops on the ground floor, offices above, and accommodation in the attics. Locals are said to have called it ‘Ireland’s Folly’ because of its immense size. It has four projecting full height bays and four large gabled dormers.”

“This is a good place to see cable carving at close quarters.”

Next stop was my favourite building on Pride Hill.

“Space on major commercial streets was at a premium and often shops were very narrow, but the owners made up for it by building several storeys and also by adding jetties jutting out into the street at both first and second floor levels. This very narrow timber-framed house is Thornton’s. “This probably was a medieval shop with a single chamber above.

“The decoration on this building is interesting: under the first floor window is a design of cusped concave lozenges and the bargeboards are original, with damask work decoration. For some reason, the gable has been placed asymmetrically.”

Then, I was off to the library. By this point, one of the reasons the tours were taking less time is that I knew my way around!

The library used to the Grammar School, which “was founded in the reign of Edward VI in 1552, partly financed with money gained from the dissolution of the collegiate churches of St Chad and St Mary. The building is an amalgam of dates from 1450 to 1630 (main façade).”

I went into the library’s courtyard.

Across from the library is a big yellow house I’ve been curious about.

This is “a fine example of a late Tudor house.” It was moved from its original location around 1700.

I then headed to Windsor Place to see a long, curved building. It “is a side wing of John Perche’s house built in 1581. Its front is hidden behind the shops on Castle Street. This more natural brown and cream was the norm in Tudor times rather than the Victorian ‘renovations’ in black and white. … John Perche was another rich wool merchant and he served as bailiff four times.”

I then headed around the back of St Mary’s Church to find my next location almost at the corner of St Mary’ Street.

It is Drapers’ Hall, now a restaurant. “The trade in wool and cloth manufacture brought great prosperity to Shrewsbury in Tudor times and the Guild of Cloth Merchants or Drapers dominated other tradesmen like shearmen (finishers) and the mercers (retailers). The built this hall as a meeting place in 1577-78and added a second story in 1580. … The Drapers were a reliouss as well as a trade guild — The Brethren of the Holy Trinity.”

On my way to my next  destination, I saw something that drives me nuts and which I admire Amsterdam for not doing, changing the name of a long street partway.

My next stop was the original site of the Bradford House we saw above.

Heading back to The Square, I learned some interesting things about this Costa at the corner of Grope Lane. It was once the Cross Keys Inn. “It was restored in about 1990 and the beams were stripped of their black Victorian paint to reveal the original brown colour. The first floor [upstairs in the UK] is much the same as it was, but the restorers added a number of contemporary allusions in the carvings on the replacement bargeboards.”

I can’t see it, but one of those tiny figures is supposed to be Margaret Thatcher.

I went back through Gullet Passage to get to my next destination.

Right at the end of this passage is an unnumbered stop. This building is timbered on one side, but has a brick front, a good example of a Tudor building that was modernized in the 18th century.

The last stop is another place we’ve been. This is where I thought I would have done well to read the pamphlets ahead of time to save myself steps, but, hey, the exercise is good! Anyway, we’re back at Rowley’s House. “Today it stands in solitary splendour, surrounded by car parks, but originally it stood amongst a jumble of yards and passages, which may account for the unusual shape and positioning of the building. It was built in about 1590 and, since it has no chimneys, it is believed to have been business premises. It probably was used by William Rowley, a draper, brewer, and malster, as a warehouse. A little later, early in the 17th century, Rowley built himself a fine brick mansion attached to the timber-framed building. This is believed to be the first brick building in Shrewsbury.”

I was underwhelmed by the Tudor tour, but grateful to have that knowledge about some of the buildings I’ve noticed many times. But I found myself wondering if the next tour would be worth my time since I felt like I was just basically walking in circles around Shrewsbury’s core repeatedly (to the point that a couple of panhandlers felt a need to ask me if I was lost and needed help!). But I’d paid for the guide, so I figured I might as well go ahead.

Little did I know, I was minutes away from falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.

To be continued…

A Visit to the Anne Frank House

Diarist Anne Frank should require no introduction. Visiting the house where she and six other people hid for more than two years during World War II was the number one thing I wanted to do in Amsterdam. Yes, the Van Gogh Museum was second.

Entry into the Anne Frank House can be a bit difficult. You can book a time slot until about 3:30PM most days, or else show up before then and queue for up to several hours in the hope of getting in without an appointment. All time slots for my entire time in Amsterdam have been booked for weeks, so I thought I was going to have to queue and hope for the best.

Well,  today, Christmas Day, access was only with booked time slots and because I kept checking back on the site, I managed to snag a last minute cancelation for the first time slot! Talk about something being meant to happen.

It was a dark, cold, and bleak morning when I left home around 8:15 and I seemingly had Amsterdam all to myself. While I had purposely avoided passing the Anne Frank house in the the past few days, I had travelled other parts of Prinsengracht Straat, on which it is located, a few times and so I knew where to go.

I’ve seen these cute cars all over Amsterdam.

Seeing the Westerkerk, which she so often references in her diary, was the moment of realisation that I had arrived.

And here’s the house. You can see the museum entrance space well lit up. To the left of it is a house with a pale foundation and stairs. To the left of that is a house with black doors. That was the location of Otto Frank’s business, with the offices above and the Secret Annexe behind.

I walked on the opposite side of the canal (to get a better view of the house) and had to double back. So here is a view looking the other direction to the Westerkerk.

And here is the view across the canal that Margot and Anne would sneak peeks of on their bathing day in the front office.

Here is the church tower that they could see from the Secret Annexe.

Daylight shot up close.

Here, I’m around the block in front of the Westerkerk, trying to get a glimpse of the Secret Annexe. This is when I understood just how they managed to be so well hidden. You cannot see the extension from the street and with all the buildings being stuck together, even if you can see it from another building, it’s not clear to which building it belongs.

The Westerkerk in daylight, from the other side.

I arrived around 8:50 and there was already a queue forming for those with tickets for nine. Anyone with a ticket for a later time, even 9:30, was told to leave and come back no earlier than five minutes before their turn. I had to queue for almost 10 minutes in needling rain. That felt exactly right.

I had no trouble gaining entrance once the line started moving, although I had to increase the contrast on my phone so that the scanner could read the bar code.

From the entrance, guests move towards the actual house, with pauses to watch videos and read informational placards. I did not feel rushed or crowded. The first space recognisable from Anne’s diary is the office where Miep Gies and other helpers would work and where Anne and her sister Margot would bathe on Saturdays. We then proceeded from there up a very steep staircase to the Secret Annexe.

I think the museum does a very good job of leading guests through the spaces in a fluid manner while still preserving some of the original flow between them. So I got a good sense of what it would have felt like to move between the office space and the Secret Annexe, up a very, very, very steep flight of stairs, although not the set of stairs that were actually used by the helpers, which are at the back of the house.

One thing that I was very pleased about is that we were able to go up behind the (reconstructed) bookcase and that it had been preserved perfectly, with the low door and giant step up that Anne described so clearly. This is a stock image of it:

The actual living space was much more spacious than I expected, although I can imagine it didn’t feel like that for seven people all crammed in with their furniture and belongings! The rooms are fairly empty, but traces of Anne and her family remain. She described how she pasted images on the walls to make her room cheerier and all those images were there. We can also see the marks on the wall where Otto Frank marked Margot and Anne’s growth. The incredibly beautiful toilet in its own room was a surprise and I wish I could have asked if it was the original:

Outside of the toilet room is a room with a sink, but there is no bath or shower. Upstairs, there was also a proper kitchen, with a stove and a sink with counter space.

We were not allowed up into the attic where Anne would sneak away for a breath of fresh air, but we could look up the very steep staircase there and get a glimpse of the church tower.

Here is a fantastic tour of the space that explains it better than I could with words or even a floor plan and it has the same flow as the tour:

(You step through the bookcase at about 1:10.)

At the very end, back downstairs in the modern museum space, you can see many of Anne’s diaries and original papers, including the iconic red and white checkered journal she got when she was 13. Her handwriting is very neat.

There were several videos throughout the tour. I heard in English testimony from Anne’s best friend Hanneli Goslar about encountering Anne at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp just before she died and managing to get food to her. Anne thought she was all alone. Hanneli, who is still alive, believes that if Anne had known her father was still alive, she might have found the strength to survive:

One of the final videos was a testimonial from Otto Frank, in English, talking about his first experience reading the diary. He said that Anne spoke about a lot of things and criticised much, but not to the depth he discovered in the diary. He was surprised by what she wrote and that despite being close to Anne, she was such a different person than he thought. His takeaway is that some parents never really know their children:

Finally, there was a video with various celebrities, authors, guests of the museum, and people in Anne’s life giving their impressions of her. One of her friends said, “She didn’t die. She was killed for being a Jewish girl.” A WWII soldier who fought to liberate Holland had this to say after learning about Anne, “Now I know why I fought.” And the title of this video comes from a speech Emma Thompson made at the Anne Frank House, “All her would-haves are our opportunities.”

The last object I saw was a surprise and added a bit of levity to the situation, Shelley Winters’ Oscar for her role in The Diary of Anne Frank. I was surprised by how cheap the statue looks! Ms. Winters had promised Otto Frank himself that she would donate the Oscar to the museum if she won and he told her that would be difficult for her to do so. Kudos to her for actually doing it.

In the last few weeks, stunning new evidence about the Secret Annexe has come out: that it’s possible that Anne and the others were not betrayed and were instead found by chance. I find an immense amount of comfort in that there is such a strong possibility.

Visiting the Anne Frank House was like going back to a place I’d been before and knew well. I cannot believe I had an opportunity to visit it. This year has been full of surprises.

I felt rather shattered when I came out an hour after entering. I’d thought of trying to find another museum that might be open, but I was done for the day. I wandered a bit around Dam Square, trying to clear my head, and then headed home.

The Royal Palace from the other side of Dam Square.

Atlas with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

I thought of stopping at a cafĂ© for a second breakfast, but the few open ones that I passed were very expensive. When I came upon an open Albert Heijn supermarket, I popped in to see if they might have fresh baking to have with coffee at home, a genius idea if I do say so myself. For 9 euros, I came out of there with a chocolate croissant and mixed fresh fruit (apple, pineapple, mango, grapes!) for a second breakfast, as well as some prepared Japanese dumplings and a very nice tray of sushi for a late lunch! If there’s one thing I wish I could take home from my European adventures, it’s an Albert Heijn supermarket. With so many of them around, their low prices, and their offerings, I don’t even want to eat at restaurants!

That turquoise and orange was a welcome bit of colour on a bleak morning.

I got in, had my second breakfast, and then started to pick away at a largish job due tomorrow night. My thought was that I could make large enough headway on it to be able to take it slow tomorrow, head out to do a museum or two, and then finish up in the evening. That wound up being a pleasant enough way to wile away the afternoon (the work was interesting) and I paused around two to have my dumplings and sushi, which were really good for being of the supermarket variety!

Just shy of four, I got a lovely present. I’m minding two cats here and one is an aloof grumpy old man who wants very little to do with me. Around four, he gets wet food. Well, I was just thinking that it was time for that when he came downstairs, rubbed his head against my legs, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Meow?” I gave him his food and before he ate, he let me give him a short scritch under the neck. Progress! 🙂

So I’ve done all that I really wanted to do in Amsterdam. I can now relax and take in all the wonderful bonuses the Museumkaart offers me. 🙂