It was only a 63 mile drive from Veracruz to Xalapa. (ha-la-pa) That does not mean that it went quickly however! As I recall, it took about two hours. But it was a great drive. In that short 63 miles, we rose from sea level to 4637' above sea level! A bit of a climb! Xalapa is snuggled into the beginning of the vast Sierra Madre range and is totally located within those rolling hills. The city itself has many terraced levels and parks. The three of us liked Xalapa immediately and were very glad that we had left Veracruz early. This little gem of a city was certainly worth it!
We checked into a hotel that we had decided upon during the drive. We would be thankful to the Lonely Planet guide many times during this trip for aiding us in finding good lodging. There were a few things that they had wrong, like certain facts about Mexico City, but that will come later! Our room was fantastic and one of the nicest ones we had on the trip. It was actually a suite with three double beds. There were huge windows that opened on two sides of the room and we had a great view of the higher mountain ranges in the distance.
We spent most of the first afternoon exploring the city. I especially liked the town square.
It varied from most squares in that there was no band shell, but all paths did strike out like bike spokes from the center. Besides having an open feel with lots of hedges and trees, the best part was how it was built. One entered from street level and then the other three sides had been built up to make the square a terrace. To get to street level on either side or the back, one had to descend a series of steps. The view from the square was incredible. Sadly for me, we had to tear ourselves away in order to see other parts of the city. We headed down the 42 steps at the back of the square and came out at street level. And yet we still were descending down a hill. Our goal was a series of five lakes that were surrounded by a park and walkway. Sort of like Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, for all you Minnesotans! We located and entered the beautiful state theater, also built on a hill, and browsed our way through it. Coming out the other side, we were deposited squarely on the pathway around the lakes we had been looking for! We had a perfectly lovely stroll for a while around the lake and then eventually cut back in towards the city. We passed by a large elementary school that was having some sort of field soccer day or try-outs. It was quite fun to watch this little bit of real life.
Of course, since we had started our walking tour by going downhill, the way back was going to be grueling. Hills, hills and more hills. L had warned us before we started this trip that there would be a lot of walking. Boy, he wasn’t kidding. But I had thought it would be on flat land, not all these hills and steps! B and I had started a walking program about a month before we left and thought we were in pretty good shape. That was proven wrong over and over as we needed to stop and take a rest from all this uphill stuff.
There is a particular street that we were looking for. The name translates to "Alley of Diamonds". I am not sure why. We circled around to the top of the hill so that our journey down this alley, and it was indeed an alley, would be downhill. It was totally fascinating and populated by mostly young, hippie types. The whole street is just a series of shops, stalls, small restaurants and coffee shops. They were selling everything from homemade jewelry to used books. And quite an incline too! I marveled again at the Mexican women in their high heels calmly negotiating cobblestones streets and on a hill to boot! We paused at one of the coffee shops and watched the world swirl by us for awhile. I enjoyed the rest immensely!
After a siesta and a nice dinner, we decided that we wouldn’t mind having a drink somewhere. That proved to be harder than we thought. There was a serious lack of public bars, cantinas or places to just sit and have a drink. Certainly not what we are used to here on the island! We located this strange little place not far from our hotel. It said bar so we went in. It was very small inside with even smaller tables. We chose one near the window, which was covered with a venetian blind. After surveying our fellow customers, we came to the conclusion that this was some sort of "gentlemen’s bar". No, not a gay bar, more like the "men only" lounge in a country club. Very, very strange. It appeared that public drinking was a serious no-no in Xalapa. We looked in the guide book later and despite the fact that Xalapa has 310,000 people, the Entertainment section does not list one single bar, disco or dance club.
What Xalapa does have in great abundance is coffee bars. They are everywhere, sometimes four in a block! We stopped at many of them in the two days we were there, but not this night. We went straight from the bar back to the hotel. It had been another long day.