No cow, no horns

Have you ever heard of a city called “Cow horns” or something like that? There is a beautiful city only about 80 km from Mexico City, on the way to the Pacific Ocean, called Cuernavaca.

Who thought of calling it that way? Are there many cows around? No, no cows. It was the way the Spaniards in the 16th century understood the name of the Aztec town which was called “Cuauhnáhuac”. This means “by the woods” in náhuatl, the language mostly spoken in the central part of Mexico and that had extended to the South of the country reaching even Central America.

Cuernavaca is known for its fabulous weather, never cold, never too hot, because of its privileged situation. It lies at about 1510 m above sea level. That’s why in the 19th Century Alexander von Humboldt called it the “city of eternal Spring”.

Last week we went on a short trip to stay there for a long weekend. The highway to Cuernavaca is usually very crowded on the weekends so we decided to leave in the early Friday afternoon making a stop at “Three Marys ” or the real name “Tres Marías” at about 3500 m above sea level. This stop is almost a must for everyone traveling that highway. There are hundreds of small booths, or mini-restaurants offering all kinds of Mexican delicacies served in tortillas or in other specialties made of corn flour. We ordered delicious quesadillas filled with cheese, the classical version and that’s why they are called that way. You may also order others filled with potatoes, beans, chicharrón that is “roasted pig skin”, a very hot sauce and fresh avocado. I promise, if you don’t know what “chicharrón” is, try it, you’ll love it.

After our break we continued on the highway to Cuernavaca. The highway is one of the best in the area and, without consideration of some of the not so experienced drivers, you’ll feel quite safe.  Mexicans are very brave, proud and family loving. They won’t hesitate taking their whole family, including the parrot and the dog, to spend a warm and sunny weekend in Cuernavaca. They also have a deep faith in the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron virgin of Mexico, and counting on her help, they will drive their old cars with almost no brakes… Don’t be afraid, there are emergency lanes in the highways surrounding Mexico city especially marked as “Emergency route for cars with no breaks” =:-O

On the other hand you’ll find some of the Mexicans on the other side of the wealth scale driving their powerful German cars or motorcycles. I always think that the Virgin always has to be very busy…

An hour or so later we arrived with no problem to our destination, a nice neighborhood South of Cuernavaca and we spent the afternoon by the pool with a perfect view of the valley.

On the next morning after an excellent breakfast at home we drove downtown. My brother was a little bit afraid of our sightseeing tour because there have been some violent incidents in the city in the past year. However, we decided to go anyway as it was during the day, not by night.

Our first stop was at the “Palacio de Cortés” that is now the Museum of the State of Morelos.  This magnificent palace was built by Hernán Cortés as one of the official residences of the Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca, himself, in 1535 and is one of the oldest residencial buildings in colonial Mexico.

Museo del Edo. de Morelos

Palacio de Cortés

The building itself reminded me of the medieval castles in Spain with some characteristics of the Arab architecture. It displays an array of objects from the prehistory to the contemporary rural state of Morelos. The most interesting work to me was the mural painting of Diego Rivera, showing the different stages of the “Conquista” starting from the arrival of the first Spanish conquerors to the Mexican Revolutions with its heroes Emiliano Zapata and José María Morelos. This Mexican state is named after him.

We left the museum with a mixed feeling of proudness and shame, and maybe only my Mexican readers will know what I mean…

We continued walking one of the main streets and entered a recent opened museum for modern Mexican Indian folk art, (Mmmmh, how do I translate this: Museo de arte Indígena Contemporáneo?)  It was too new and only the shop and the library were open. What a pity!

We walked to the Cathedral of Cuernavaca, dedicated to the assumption of Mary (la Asunción de María) that was built as a convent in 1537. We were quite shocked with the masses of young people and the food booths in the yard, but what shocked us the most was the pop music that was being played with very loud bass tones.

Yard

Inner yard

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The Cathedral

We walked through the gardens and entered the main building. What a surprise! There are very old wall paintings depicting the missionaries on their ships and boats cruising the ocean to the Americas.  We could also appreciate the first “Mexican” cherubs in the walls. The indians had to learn the sculpting techniques used in Europe at that time, 16th century, and decorated the monuments, created in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Virreinato de la Nueva España), that way. Some of the oldest ones are found here.

cherubs

Cherubs in the New World

However, it is a shame that the Catholic church abuses its power and organizes such big events in the Cathedral. Unfortunately, people don’t realize that they are destroying our historical patrimony with their parties. They had extremely loud music with the loudest speakers and sound mixing machines under the arches of the main building making everything vibrate and reverberate, not only our stomachs. Besides that, they also took down a wooden sculpture of a saint with no care, damaging the fragile wooden hands. It is valid to try to engage the youngsters and to give strength to their faith, but aren’t there any other safer places in town?

Worried and fascinated we left the Cathedral to walk to the “Jardínes de la Borda”, a nice house with a magnificent garden with all kinds of flowers and plants of the region. They were originally built by a rich miner José de la Borda of Taxco, the Silver City. This big house with its gardens were used later on as the weekend house of Maximilian of Habsburg and Charlotte of Belgium, later of Mexico. Though they couldn’t enjoy their residence for a long time…

It was quite hot and sunny so we decided to take a break and have lunch at a nice restaurant, called Hidalgo, just in front of the museum. I was a little skeptical because very often the eating places close to main attractions are not the best ones. However, I trusted my brother and we went there. It was the best choice we could have made! The food was excellent and we sat outside with a nice view of the Palacio de Cortés and to the small plaza next door. We had the best “sopes” ever! Sopes are made of corn flour, but they are smaller and thicker than tortillas. Some were mixed with black beans and other were mixed with baked banana, simply delicious! We also had some tacos with salmon “pastor style” and as a main course white fish in a mango sauce cooked in a big banana leaf and some tender grilled beef with guacamole. All this with a light rosé Mexican wine. Excellent!

Afterwards we decided not to walk very far, we couldn’t have done it after our meal 😉 We stayed for a while in the plaza with huge trees enjoying the live music, the dancing people, the smells of corn and sweets and the fair that took place there that weekend.

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Sweet and more in the plaza

We got home very happy with our tour and continued talking about what we had seen by the pool…

Berlin, Berlin…

Last November I spent two weeks in Berlin. For some of you Berlin may be of no interest or it may offer less compared to Paris or London. For others, Berlin as the capital of Germany may have a difficult or bad reputation.
 
I’ve been living in Germany for more than twenty years and had the opportunity of experiencing the Fall of the Wall here. Before those years I had only been once in West Berlin. The city was very crowded and the Wall was impressive. In the West part of the city there were observation points where you could take a look over the Wall at the East part. The German Democratic Republic was really another country although everybody was German. To be able to get an idea of this period in time there are some locations in Berlin to visit. First of all, Checkpoint Charlie which was the official point to cross from West to east Berlin during the Cold War and which has some old pieces of the wall left. 
 
Another interesting place to visit is the DDR Museum that offers a vivid view of every aspect of life in the German Democratic Republic. It is interactive and some products of the old DDR can be bought there, too.  A nice film to watch, Goodbye, Lenin.
Leaving the Cold War era, Berlin has experienced a fast modernization and is a proud example of modern architecture. Nice buildings are in and surrounding the Potsdamer Platz. One of the most famous is the Sony Center finished in the year 2000. It has place for restaurants, cinemas, offices and some living area. Next to the Sony Center there is a very big complex with more restaurants, cinemas, a new shopping mall, a theater and some first class hotels. 
If modern life with all its glamour gets to be too loud and “schrill” or jarring in about 15 walking minutes distance you can find a cultural oasis called the Kultur Forum. The famous Berliner Philharmonic is the first building that will attract your attention. If you cannot visit a concert there, take a tour and enjoy the building. Another idea would be to go on Wednesday afternoon to the small conference room where they show cultural films and other cultural events. And don’t forget that there are also “lunch concerts” to enjoy.
 
 
Next to the concert hall is the Gemäldegalerie or Picture Gallery where you can find the Old Masters of the European painting. The Gallery also offers special exhibitions like last year’s ‘ Picasso, women and animals’.  Funny title, but I loved the pictures.
Crossing the Matthiasplatz in front of the gallery, is the New National Gallery in an impressive modern building with glass walls and almost no columns to sustain the roof. It is dedicated to the twentieth century masters.
 
If you rather prefer to enjoy fresh air and green areas, very close to Potsdamer Platz you can visit the zoo or simply take a walk through the many paths along the water behind the zoo. You can smell the animals and can take a short look at some birds and lamas without having to pay an entrance 😉  If the weather is sunny and more or less warm, you can enjoy the hidden Biergarten close to the zoo. 
 
Berlin has many green areas and parks. The Spree river and its affluents offer idillic views that you can admire  taking the U-Bahn line, German for subway,  that goes to the Main Train Station. If you take one of the S-Bahn trains and leave the city for a while you will be surprised by the many lakes and woods that surround the capital. Very beautiful!
 
Going back in time and reviewing history, there is a very special area that you shouldn’t miss, the old Jewish Quarter with the New Synagogue and a lot of jewish shops and cafés. There is a building complex called Hackesche Höfe that has been modernized keeping the fashionable architecture of older times.
To handle this difficult topic, it is a good idea to visit the Jewish Museum from Daniel Libeskind. I found the building very impressive because it makes you feel the tragedy with only walking through the long aisles.  After the visit and to get you moods up a nice hot-chocolate in the coffee is the best.
 
 
Last but not least, the nightlife in this extraordinary city. Every neighborhood has something to offer:  the alternative bars in Prenzlauer Berg, the Turkish and Arab coffee shops in Neu-Kölln, elegant and classy restaurants in Berlin Mitte or nice places in other bourgeois neighborhoods like Charlottenburg or Steglitz.
Berlin is a very open minded city and you can find the best gay cafés, shops and clubs in Schöneberg ever since the 1920’s.  This makes me think  of Marlene Dietrich and her unforgettable “Blauer Engel”  and of “Cabaret” with Liza Minelli. 
 
 
 
The city hasn’t changed that much. There is fun for everyone: men and women, men and men, only women or all together… Why don’t you dare visiting a club where not only the doors swing? That would be another side of the wonderful city, Berlin. 😉