Happy Friday! Time flies when you’re having fun. It has already been a few weeks since I spent a long weekend in Querétaro, a smallish city/largish town three hours north of Mexico City and a place firmly rooted in Mexico’s century-long struggle for independence.
I had been there just shy of one year prior – it was in Querétaro that Pamela and I spent our first Valentine’s Day. My return trip was solo, as the g/f couldn’t get away. I enjoyed myself nevertheless. For starters, the weather was fantastic – hot and sunny, a 180-degree reversal of the four cold, rainy days Pamela and I had spent there in 2012.
Somewhat confusingly, Santiago de Querétaro (full name) played an important role in not one, not two, but three separate independence struggles. In 1810, it was here that several disaffected Mexicans, including courier Ignacio Pérez, parish priest Miguel Hidalgo, and local heroine Doña Josefa Ortiz, plotted to overthrow their Spanish conquerors. On September 16th of that year, Hidalgo issued his call to arms, and the day is now an annual holiday across all of Mexico. Things were rocky for awhile and eventually along came the Americans, “reaching out” to help in their own selfish way. In 1848, the bloody Mexican-American War came to an end in Querétaro, where the Treaty of Hidalgo was ratified. Somewhere around this time, Austria came to the helm, and Emperor Maximilian I (of the Habsburg dynasty) went from loved to loathed as many finally grew tired of being governed by a foreign power. Although he ruled from Mexico City’s Castillo de Chapultepec, it was in Querétaro that Maximilian met his maker, in 1867. It wasn’t until 1917 that Mexico’s constitution was drawn up and put into law – in QRO again. Got all that? (Me neither.)
As a result, it probably comes as no surprise that many of QRO’s sites are of interest to history buffs. I made it to a few such places that Pamela and I missed last time. El Cerro de las Campanas (Hill of the Bells) is a summit west of the city center and the place where Maximilian was executed. Today, the hill houses an independence museum, a chapel, and a giant statue of everyone’s favorite Mexican-born independence hero, Benito Juárez. With my appetite for history not yet sated, I also hit up QRO’s Museo Regional, which features several exhibits relating to Mexico’s independence, such as the desk at which the Treaty of Hidalgo was signed. (The museum, housed in a former convent, also features an impressive collection of religious paintings, many of them by someone named “Anonymous.”) During my last morning in town, I was surprised to see el Teatro de la Republica (Theater of the Republic) open to the public, as it’s usually closed. Its interior appears much the same as any classical theater, with the requisite chandelier, white balconies, and red velvet seats, but of particular historic note is the fact that this is where Mexico’s constitution was signed. (The names of its signatories are listed on the backstage curtain.)
Believe it or not, however, most of my time was spent simply wandering the lovely streets, browsing the weekend flea markets, people-watching in QRO’s numerous public squares, sleeping late, eating well, and popping in and out of most churches that I passed. I befriended Lia, the hostel pooch. I stumbled upon the city’s riverwalk, remarkable considering I didn’t know the city even had a river! I also found QRO’s train station, which – like the river – I previously didn’t know existed. I met up with my friend Jester. Those of you I’ve befriended through a certain travel community may know of whom I speak. She and I hadn’t seen each other since 2007, and enjoyed nostalgic reflections about that wacky group of (mostly) like-minded backpackers. One day, I promise to blog about them. Oh, yes.
All in all, I had a wonderful time in a wonderful city. It was a cheap road trip, but while I’d love to say that I’m “done” with this region of Mexico, to write such a thing would be a fiction. Forty-five minutes from Querétaro is Peña de Bernal, a much-photographed rocky peak described in tourist brochures as the world’s third-largest monolith. (Who comes up with this stuff?!) A bit further is Tequisquiapan, a small town famous for its helados (ice cream) and its balnearios (thermal springs). A bit further still is Mexico’s wine region. Pour me a glass, por favor – I love this country!
A few pics of Querétaro:
Above pic: Benito Juarez statue (side view) atop el Cerro de las Campanas, where Austria’s Maximilian was executed.
Below pic: Interior of el Teatro de la Republica, inside which Mexico’s constitution was signed.
Above pic: Typical building façade.
Below pic: “Lived-in” callejon (alleyway).
Above pic: Querétaro’s Train Station, today preserved as a museum.
Below pic: Yours truly, hanging out with the infamous Jester. (As you may have guessed, that’s not her real name. Just like “Yours truly” isn’t mine.)