We left Mexico City in October and traveled three hours north by bus to the city of Querétaro, and it was good to get out for a while from under the intense hustle and bustle of the MegaCapital. However, when I wrote previously that Querétaro’s size and daily pace more closely resembles Salt Lake’s, I had not accounted for its recent meteoric growth. By now, I’d have to say it’s population and traffic have slid past Salt Lake City’s and is closer to that of Denver’s. (For those followers that don’t know Western U.S. cities well, that’s a bit of a contrast.)
And in the Centro Histórico where a number of its brick-paved streets are barely more than a lane in width, a public event in any one of its plazas can cause traffic to get as nutty as in the historic centers of any large European city. STILL: Querétaro contains less than a tenth the population of Mexico City, and with only 3% of its population density.
In contrast to its colonial center, Querétaro’s business center (their NEW downtown) and its suburbs are as automobile ‘driven’ as any large U.S. city without a subway or light rail system. But with its (often surprisingly wide) sidewalks, the large historic center is VERY walkable, with almost anyone’s daily needs able to be met simply by striking out on foot. OK there ARE exceptions to this: a Costco, mega-supermarket, Cineplex, mall, etc. are a couple of neighborhoods out. But hey: there’s always UBER (which is readily available, and very inexpensive).
Our apartment was in Centro Histórico as well, where four hundred year old structures house offices, small shops, galleries, bakeries, coffee houses (Mexican cities have a TON of good ones in this coffee growing country), quiet upscale bars and a plethora of restaurants. Though this is not quite as international a town as Mexico City, still: interspersed between the purveyors of tortas and carnitas, sits a Moroccan and a Balkan restaurant, a British style curry house, a Spanish Tapas Bar, a French Crêperie and a variety of Italian places (not to forget a fabulous Gelateria), all within a few blocks from us.
What wasn’t represented in Centro Histórico were Asian restaurants. But with companies like Honda, Hitachi and Samsung having all built huge facilities in the area over the years, Asian fare was certainly around: just not in OUR hood. The growing Asian community here shops, eats and hangs in the burbs as well as in and around the newer suburban malls, as do most of Querétaro’s Gringos. (BTW, malls are still ‘a thing’ in Mexican cities. Unlike the U.S., Amazon hasn’t killed them down here…yet.)
Rounding out our neighborhood were its many Catholic churches which, whether large or small, were almost always opulent inside. The larger ones often had an open plaza for public gatherings attached to one side, and if a church ever housed a monastery or cloister, then elaborate courtyards could also be found within their walls. Some of these – like the domes atop many of Mexico’s oldest churches – have a distinctly Moorish look to their design, which harkens back to Northwest Africa’s eight-hundred year occupation of Spain, and of the undeniable Moorish influence over Iberian culture that emigrated to Mexico with the Spanish. (More about THAT in an upcoming food article.)
And I’d be remiss not to mention an area to which we repeatedly found ourselves drawn. It’s a newer residential neighborhood bordering Centro Historico, which also straddles Querétaro’s famous aqueduct called Los Arcos. Close to several Universities, its small commercial center seemed to attract a bohemian student and faculty crowd for dining and imbibing. We thoroughly enjoyed the vibe there, and all of it following Los Arcos added an almost surreal touch!
Filarmonica de Queretaro
Our arrival in town turned out to coincide with a couple of weeks of down time for the Querétaro Philharmonic’s local concerts, as the orchestra had split up into chamber groups and traveled to schools around the area performing education concerts.
But they wrapped those up, returning home and to their formal concert series during our final week in town. The program was Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet Ballet, headlined by a guest conductor and soloist, both from Europe.
The concert was performed at a modern hall up a huge hill overlooking the city which provided some stunning evening views of the metro area. Shirley and I also thoroughly enjoyed the sound of the orchestra. I have to say: for a smaller budget ensemble outside the Capital, their artistic product can compete handily with some of Mexico City’s professional orchestras. The winds and brass were particularly fine. It was also a real kick to listen to my friend (and Timpanist counterpart) Oscar Salazar who did a fantastic job, as did the rest of his Percussion section.
In Part 2 coming tomorrow, I discuss the many things I learned about the Philharmonic from time in town spent with Oscar, and from my interview with their new Music Director: Ludwig Carrasco.