Guanajuato’s Museum of Mummies—Or Are They Just Dead Bodies?

by Nancy Bestor

The beautiful city of Guanajuato, Mexico boasts many outstanding sites. This includes the Teatro Juarez—a beautiful 100+ year old performing arts theater – several stunning churches, and a great market (Mercado Hidalgo, pictured below) in an old train depot, to name just a few. But one of Guanajuato’s most popular tourist stops leaves me with mixed feelings. The Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato—Museum of the Mummies—is exactly what its name describes, a museum filled with more than 100 mummies. The mummies were residents of Guanajuato who lived from the 1850s to the 1950s. Apparently, if a family member couldn’t afford an annual fee for their beloved’s remains to stay in the cemetery, the body was dug up to make room for someone whose family could afford it. It’s these exhumed folks that were eventually put on display.

I’m not a squeamish person. But there was something a little disturbing about being in a museum filled with nothing but dead bodies. The mummies ranged from babies to the elderly, some with clothing still preserved, and others wearing very little. Most faces seemed permanently etched with a look of distress. I’ve seen mummies in other museums and crypts, but seeing so many together in a museum whose sole purpose is to display mummies was an unusual experience, and one I’m not sure I would recommend to everyone. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, so proceed with caution.The cost is about $5 per person, and the museum is at the top of a hill, a fairly easy walk from the town center.

Advertisements

A Young Lad Learns A New Game

by Robert Bestor

Way, way back. Back when it was hard to find out what was going on on the other side of town, let alone the other side of the world. Back before cable TV even, on our first day of 4th grade, my good buddy Kevin Afonso announced, “My dad taught me a great game over the summer. It’s called soccer.” And after a quick explanation of the rules (which were pretty simple then, and are still simple now), our group of football and baseball mad hellions played soccer at every recess, every day, for the next three years of grade school. 

For several of us this led to youth teams and high school teams. It turned me into a lifelong player, which included a long stint playing in a Sunday morning pick-up game with players from all over the world. The small handful of us who were not from far off lands referred to them as “contingents.” There was the German Contingent, the African Contingent, the British Contingent, the Middle Eastern Contingent, the Hungarian Contingent, and more. The origins of this pick-up game are unknown to me, but it was sustained by carloads of Contingents who showed up every Sunday to play. 

It was a remarkable weekly meeting that, along with other sporting experiences and endeavors, certainly piqued my interest in the world outside of Hayward, California. I distinctly recall watching a marathon, likely on Wide World of Sports, that featured a runner who the announcers referred to as “the mystery man from Djibouti.” What!? Where the heck is Djibouti? Your typical sports fan must score better than average on a geography test.

Soccer also gave me an extra cultural experience to seek out when traveling. Going to a professional game when abroad is always a goal on any trip, and I’m always checking schedules for games that might fit our itinerary. Most recently, Nancy and I attended an English Premier League game at London’s newly remodeled Wembley Stadium.

And my how things have changed. Back in 1984, I attended my first match at a dilapidated old firetrap called Highbury, that was home to Arsenal Football Club. Its seats were sized for Lilliputians and its stairways and concourses were cramped and rickety. Unfortunately the new Wembley has gone a little too far in the other direction and feels a little too new, a little too clean and a little mundane. 

It’s a similar comparison a baseball fan might make between Boston’s Fenway Park (dilapidated firetrap) and Oracle Park in San Francisco (more than a little too precious). You may have guessed my positions on Arsenal, the Red Sox and the Giants. Guilty. Nevertheless sports fans, I stand by my portrayals.

We headed for Wembley because “our” team, Tottenham Hotspur, were using it as a home base while having their own stadium rebuilt. And to be sure, despite my nitpicking over the venue, we had a really great time. It was big fun. 

Tickets are a little tricky to get, as they are held back from sale to the general public in an effort to allow “club members” first crack. I kept my eye on the Tottenham website though, and about two weeks prior to the game, scored seats on the halfway line for about $75 each. 

The trip to the stadium via the Tube was a snap, and soon we were in the stadium tipping a pregame pint and eating a savory pregame pie. And both, to the American sports fan, were shockingly affordable. Our two beers and and two pies cost about $20 total. In comparison, on a recent visit to the Oakland Coliseum Arena (never will I say Oracle), I purchased a single beer that set me back $13. Ouch!

Now I am among the first to admit, soccer can be a boring sport to watch. The lack of scoring, players who roll around on the ground as though they’ve suffered a fatal injury, time-wasting tactics, and conservative strategies, too often combine for disappointingly dull matches. But I can’t help it. I’m hooked. Poor Nancy.

Fortunately, unlike our recent experience in Mexico City (poor Nancy), this game had none of that, and entertained us with goals, a saved penalty kick, friendly fellow fans, and an all around excellent sporting experience. The good guys (Tottenham) won 3-1, and all was right with the world. 

Way, way back, we thought the best thing about Kevin’s dad was that he had once taken a leak beneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But of course there is more. He was born in Portugal, immigrated to the USA, and from 1966 to 1983, served as Chief of the OB/GYN department at Hayward’s Kaiser Permanente Medical Center. And there, about 19 years before I met her, Dr. Jose Afonso was the attending physician at the birth of one Nancy Bestor. That puts him at the origins of two of my life’s greatest passions. Thank you Doc Fons.

Treat Yo’ Self – Handbag Shopping in Paris

I love a good handbag. It’s possible this started when I worked in the purse department at Macy’s for three years during high school and college. It was then that I learned about finer bags – including Coach, Dooney & Bourke, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton – and I’ll readily admit that from age 16 on, I was spoiled and couldn’t buy a handbag that wasn’t top of the line. Fast forward 30+ years and I’m still using a few of the bags I bought way back when.

Thus when we were in Paris recently, I toyed with the idea of buying a new, fancy bag from the French luxury handbag company Longchamp. Founded in 1948, Longchamp’s signature bag is very distinctive, and once you’ve noticed one, I guarantee you’ll see them all over the place. In two sizes and at least 20 colors, their Le Pliage Tote is quite lovely. Was this elegant, practical and reasonably priced $150 bag for me though? Of course not. My eyes and heart were drawn to their luscious, brand new, all leather, Roseau Tote Bag, coming in at a moderate (cough, cough) $525.

Generally speaking, I’m not an indecisive person. When I decide that I want to do something, or buy something, I do it. But it took me forever and a day to decide on this bag. We first shopped in the Longchamp store on the Champs-Élyseés, but when I finally decided that I wanted to buy the fancy expensive bag, this Longchamp location did not have it in the color red, and I couldn’t for the life of me decide between red and yellow without actually seeing the red in person, so Bob and I walked all over tarnation to find the other Longchamp store. After a couple of wrong turns, some exasperated address hunting and, finally, a phone call, we learned we had been given the wrong address. The phone call got us on track and once we found the store, seemingly hours later, I ended up buying the bag in black. Sorry dear.

When making my purchase, I discovered that by filling out a VAT (value added tax) refund form, I could receive a tax refund 2-4 weeks after my purchase. Longchamp helped me fill out the form, which required a passport at the time of purchase, and then I dropped the form into the VAT refund box at the train station on our way out of France. The Longchamp employees had provided me specific instructions on how to fill out the form and send in for the refund, as it must be done exactly as detailed. Within a few days I received an email confirming that my refund claim had been made, and sure enough, two weeks later, I received a refund to my credit card of about $60. Because you know, you’ve got to spend to save.

I worried that I would regret such an expensive purchase, one that I was making for no reason other than that I wanted it. But you know what? I regret nothing. I use my beautiful purse almost every day and when I put the supple and beautiful leather bag over my shoulder I say to myself, “Nancy, you’re worth it.” Because I am worth it.

The Clampetts Take on The Champs-Élyseés

On our recent trip to Paris, we spent an entire morning exploring the Champs-Élyseés, on one of Rick Steves’ many recommended self-guided walking tours. I’m a big fan of the walks in Mr. Steves’ tour books, as he points out lots of things that I would never otherwise notice. His Champs-Élyseés walk was no exception. Before I regale you with our adventure, however, let me first paint a picture of Bob and I on this day. We were both wearing long sleeved SmartWool tops, the same exact tops we would wear the entire trip. Look at a photo of me on day one and day six and you won’t see a difference. In our defense, 100% merino wool clothing does not get smelly. I’ve worn the same top hiking in late summer in Southern Portugal for five days in a row, with no adverse aromas whatsoever. So at least we didn’t smell when we were on the Champs-Élyseés, but I can’t say we looked very fancy either. I had on black ExOfficio travel pants, also low on the glamour scale, while Bob was wearing ExOfficio travel jeans. Yes, we were a walking advertisement for Travel Essentials. Bob was wearing black Doc Martens (highly comfortable and hip in London perhaps, but not in Paris), and I was wearing black converse tennis shoes, to give you a better idea of our fancy wear.

Now that you can surely picture our attractive attire, here’s how we spent our morning. We started out at the Arc de Triomphe, admiring the compelling scenes carved into its exterior. From there we popped in to the flagship Louis Vuitton store, the Renault automobile store, the famous and extremely popular Longchamp handbag store, and many other fancy Paris shops. The Champs-Élyseés has quite a few international chain stores too, including McDonalds – which the French were apparently, and appropriately, horrified by when it opened in the ’70s – Sephora, Gap, Disney, and more. But Rick Steves’ guided us to historic French shops and sites, which are frankly not to be missed. One such stop is Ladureé, a stunning 19th century tea salon and patisserie, where we sampled delicious macarons and mini tarts, along with outstanding coffee. Ladureé is well known for their macarons, which you can purchase boxed up to go, but it’s well worth an hour of your time to soak up the atmosphere. We sat upstairs in the fabulously decorated cafe, where we were seated close to a French mother/daughter pair in fancy wear and pearls, and a Frenchman reading the newspaper and drinking coffee with a bow tie, handkerchief, and suit to match. But we rocked our well worn travel clothing.

After our mid-day snack, we pressed on to a Rick Steves’ recommended shop, Guerlain, a perfumery with roots stretching back to 1829. Steves advised us to “notice the 1914 details of the shop,” and to “climb upstairs, as it’s tres French.” What he didn’t tell us was that we would quickly be scooped up and adopted by an entertaining and quite knowledgeable Guerlain employee, Remy, who would proceed to spend the next 60 minutes with us. He walked us through all of the perfumes, skin care and makeup routines that Guerlain has to offer, describing each with great detail in his beautifully French-accented English, before he finally escorted us upstairs to see what frankly is more of a stunning perfume museum than a store. Remy was delightful, showing us the private room where British royalty, and the likes of Madonna and Celine Dion, are said to sit when they visit Guerlain, spraying samples of 300 euro bottles of perfume onto card sticks so we could smell them, and telling us that in all of our future visits to Guerlain, he would be our “personal assistant.” We ended up buying skincare products for our daughters, not because we intended to, but because we felt some obligation to Remy, after all the delightful time he spent with us. At one point, he asked Bob what his “scent” is, and when Bob stared blankly at him, he prompted, “are you more spicy, woodsy, fruity, or floral?” Bob chose woodsy. LOL.

Our visit with Remy ended with him asking me if he could “perfume me.” It took me a few seconds to understand that he wanted to spray me with the scent I liked best, even though there was no chance we were going to buy any perfume. I happily said yes, and while Remy “perfumed me” he taught me the proper way to perfume yourself. Apparently, I’ve been doing it wrong for 52 years. Imagine that.

Never once did Remy blink an eye at our “experienced” travel clothing, at my scuffed Converse tennis shoes, or my Baggallini backpack. Nor did he make us feel like we “had” to buy anything. He simply wanted to show us everything in the store because he was excited about it, and because he takes his job seriously.

I highly recommend a walking tour of the Champs Élyseés, as well as a visit to Guerlain. Ask for Remy, and tell him Bob and Nancy sent you.

Strolling the Canals of Venice Beach

I love to stroll neighborhoods admiring houses. If it wasn’t frowned upon, I’d go to open houses on a regular basis, not because I’m looking to buy a new home, but because I love to see their designs, their décor, and their landscaping. And maybe I’m just a little bit nosy too. Thus, when my sister and I were in Los Angeles recently, I insisted that we check out the Venice Canals Walkways. Not because I am super interested in the waterways of Southern California, but rather I am intrigued by interesting architecture and landscaping, and the Venice Canals have both in spades.

If you didn’t know anything about the Venice Canals, you’re not alone. I only learned of their existence when I read an article in a travel magazine. They’re not hiding by any means, but you can easily overlook them when you visit Venice Beach and its surrounding area. Built in the early 1900s, the “Venice of America” was founded by a tobacco millionaire who wanted to bring a little bit of Venice, Italy to the United States. Today, more than 350 homes border one of the six inland canals, which are tucked in to the otherwise traditional residential neighborhood of Venice Beach. Each home is unique, ranging from small beach-like cottages, to large, modern glass structures, and massive Italian and Spanish inspired homes. Their backyards border the canal walkways, so there’s ample opportunity for nosy curious people like myself to casually glance into the yards of these homes, and if there’s a large picture window or sliding glass doors opening into the backyard, even better.

The canals themselves are quite picturesque. There are several pedestrian bridges that afford terrific views of the neighborhood and there are walkways on either side of each canal. My head hurt from swiveling to look at the homes across the canal along with the homes right next to the walkway on my side of the canal. I feel like you have to walk both sides of every canal to get a complete picture of the homes, both up close and from a distance. Lots on the canal are apparently zoned for single family homes only. And there were many homes being remodeled.

Water enters the canals through sea gates, which are opened at low tide to drain the water, and closed at high tide to trap the water for a few days. We must have been there when the sea gates were open, because the water was extremely low. Many homes have docks in the canal, with a range of little boats tied up. We saw all sizes of canoe, paddle boats, and kayaks waiting for the high tide to come back in. The landscaping was delightful as well. I might feel pressured to have a fancy yard if I lived in such a sought after neighborhood, with so many lookie-loo’s like myself checking out the spaces. The gardens did not disappoint. There was everything from cactus and succulent designed yards to bonsai gardens and extravagantly colorful flower beds.

The walkways of the Venice Canals, now on the National Registry of Historic Places, do not allow bicycling, and on the Monday morning that we visited, there were very few other walkers. It’s a delightful place to take a stroll when visiting Los Angeles. And it’s quite different from most other walks I’ve taken in Southern California. The beach is just a handful of blocks away, but you’d have no idea by looking at the Venice Canals. The area is simply charming. I’ll happily go back again when I have the opportunity.

Striking Workers in Paris Close Museums

Earlier this year, when Bob and I were visiting Paris, we had to change our plans on the fly. We had purchased advance tickets for admission to the Catacombs, but when we arrived at our appointed time, we learned that they were closed for the day. Government workers were on a “social movement” or strike. The only way we found this out was via a small sign on the front door. It was not a problem for us, only a slight inconvenience, as we were able to use our tickets for admission the following day, when the “social movement” was over. It was never clear to us why the workers were on their social movement, but things appeared back to normal the next day. The Catacombs is a very popular site and some visitors wait hours for admission during high season. We were there on a weekday in February, and because we had purchased tickets on their website in advance, we didn’t have to wait in line.

This week, workers at the Louvre went on a day-long strike, protesting “unprecedented deterioration of conditions.” While that may sound a bit vague, visitors to the Louvre increased by 25% from 2017 to 2018, and the Union stated that museum facilities are not increasing along with the growing number of visitors, and staff is actually decreasing.

I suspect that the strike at the Louvre in late May will have a greater impact than the social movement at the Catacombs in February, but I admit I have no idea how these things work. I can only say that if visitors’ numbers keep growing, and workers continue to be unhappy, visitors are going end up unhappy as well. Particularly if they’re shut out of a once in a lifetime visit to a historic site.

The Bluest Skies You’ve Ever Seen are in Seattle

While I do love my small town living in Ashland, Oregon, population 21,000, Bob and I also love getting away to the “big city.” In the big city, I can safely go to the grocery store in my sweat pants first thing in the morning, before I’ve brushed my teeth, and not run into five people I know. I’m not in any way suggesting I do this, I’m just saying I can do this. If I wanted to.

Thus, the fact that our two daughters live in Portland and Seattle respectively means we have an excellent excuse to visit two of my favorite cities in the Pacific Northwest. We were recently in Seattle, and got to take advantage of its many splendors. On a sunny day, I completely understand why Seattle is nicknamed the Emerald City. I’m a sucker for a city by the water, and with the sunshine glinting off the blue bay, Seattle sure has that one down.

Emily lives in the lower Queen Anne neighborhood, and a short two-block walk from her apartment building is Kerry Park, with its absolutely stunning views of downtown Seattle, the Space Needle, and Elliott Bay. I often try and start a visit to Emily with a walk to Kerry Park, just to breathe in the beauty of Seattle and its surrounding waterways. From there, I like to take a spin through the Upper Queen Anne neighborhood. The old (and new) homes are gorgeous, and I love to wander residential streets and look at front doors, porches and front gardens. I’d look at back decks, backyards, and kitchens too if I was just a little more confident of talking my way out of a trespassing charge and of jumping fences.

If you’re a regular reader of our newsletter, you know there are two things I love to do, walk and eat, and not necessarily in that order. One of my favorite Seattle food haunts is Salumi, a sandwich shop and producer of cured meats. I realized on my last trip that I’ve bought a Salumi sandwich on my last three visits to Seattle in a row, so I must really like it. Salumi has been around for 20 years, and the grandfather of the original owner—who is the father of chef Mario Batali—opened an Italian grocery store in Seattle 100 years earlier. Their hot and cold sandwiches are outstanding, and they are generous with tastings of their cured meats to help customers decide what they’d like to order.

Recently Emily and I bought sandwiches at Salumi, then took them on the ferry to Bainbridge Island, a beautiful 30 minute ride across Elliott Bay. The views of Bainbridge and back to Seattle are amazing, and for an $8.50 fare (the way back is free!), it is well worth your time just for the ferry ride alone. I really only saw the downtown of Bainbridge Island, which is a very cute three-ish block retail and restaurant neighborhood. I’m sure the Island has much more to offer, but we chose to walk the downtown area, then wander a bit along the water, before heading back to Seattle. Homes along the waterfront on Bainbridge Island are also beautiful to gawk at. Once again, I’d love to get closer, but for those nasty trespassing laws.

I have to admit to loving a very touristy part of Seattle too, Pike Place Market. If given the opportunity, I’m happy to take a quick wander through the market and check out the food and craft booths. A couple of favorite stops include Rachel’s Ginger Beer (thanks to Emily for turning me on to this delicious non-alcoholic drink), the donut robot at Daily Dozen Donuts—with hot and fresh mini donuts, and Sarah’s favorite, the Johnson Berry Farm jam stall. I also enjoy a meander past the famous fresh fish stall, but it’s usually packed with people waiting for the popular fish toss.

Emily works in East Lake Union, and with my love of the water, I was delighted to eat Salumi sandwiches on another Seattle visit with Sarah and Bob down by the houseboats on the Lake. I’m a lover of a good rom/com, and can’t help but remember Tom Hanks living on a houseboat in Seattle in the movie Sleepless in Seattle. When Meg Ryan comes out to see him, and they miss each other right near the houseboats, sigh…..But I digress. The houseboats are beautiful, and although I don’t see myself living in one, I sure like to look at them.

One last tidbit that I’d recommend is the Center for Wooden Boats, on South Lake Union. The Center boasts a museum, which wasn’t open when I stopped by, but there are old wooden docks with beautiful historic wooden boats tied up that you can wander around and admire. The location is stunning, and with seaplanes docked nearby, I found myself gasping out loud once or twice at the beauty of it all.

Thankfully, with Emily calling Seattle home, I’ll have plenty of other opportunities to check out more of Seattle’s top spots. And to go to the grocery store before I’ve brushed my teeth too.