“…many visitors are disappointed with Guadalajara. The renovated downtown area is on a grand scale and quite elegant, but it doesn’t have the quaint charm of Mexico’s nicest colonial cities. The traffic and pollution aren’t nearly as bad as in Mexico City, but central Guadalajara can still be congested, noisy and stifling, while the vast urban area is not easy to negotiate.”
Lonely Planet Mexico
My initial reaction to Guadalajara was indeed disappointment. I had come in from the Southeast via Avenida Revolución, which had something I have never seen anywhere else in the country: photo-radar speed control. And, astonishingly, everyone was driving at or slightly below the 60 kph speed limit. But this well-controlled speed didn’t keep it from being just another major Avenida through ticky-tacky outskirts. After a spell, this road dropped me into what I now know is probably the scuzziest part of the Centro Historico. I parked just Southeast of the Jardín de San Francisco, at the edge of the touristy bit of the Centro Historico, a place that looks sketchy, with a mix of run-down mid-century buildings, run-down colonial buildings, and a bunch of equally run-down looking people. “Why am I here?” was my first thought as I made my way around homeless people to find the main plaza.
But as I’ve now spent nearly a week here, my opinion has changed as the city has grown on me. Sure, Guadalajara has let careless development ruin what could otherwise have been an amazing colonial center. While there are still many fine colonial and colonial-style old buildings, there are also many unattractive, decrepit mid-century buildings mixed in. But if you can overlook that, which I increasingly am, the city then takes on a sort of funky charm. There are still alleys that are completely colonial or old-fashioned, which have been turned into pedestrian streets dotted with cafes and boutiques. For example Andador Coronilla, a few blocks outside the centro is blocked to traffic and has some lovely cafés and an art school where students work on their canvases outdoors.
My hotel, “Del Carmen Concept Hotel” is a wonderful example of the mixing of old and new. Situated in a renovated colonial mansion on the Plaza del Carmen, the hotel is a boutique hotel, with about a dozen rooms, each decorated in a style of a particular Mexican artist. I’ve had the fortune to stay in “Frideberg,” and “Vlady,” and had the opportunity to peek into several more. Personally, I think Frideberg is the most interesting, but any of the rooms is out of the ordinary, and a fun place to stay. The staff is super-friendly, and there’s a restaurant on the ground floor. The only complaint is that it can be a bit noisy, but I always travel with ear plugs, so I wasn’t disturbed.
The hotel itself is well-situated, toward the edge of the Centro Historico, but easily within walking distance of many touristic sights. I’d highly recommend it. The price? I managed to pay $1,438 pesos per night, about $110 USD. While this is about twice what I normally pay for hotels in Mexico, it was a nice splurge.
From the hotel, the city is quite walkable, with the iconic cathedral and surrounding plazas seven blocks east, and three blocks north, about ten minutes away. After settling in, I walked over to check out the plazas and ancient buildings.
Honestly, the Cathedral left me cold. Though iconic, in my view the towers are out of proportion to the facade, and a glaringly different style, more Gothic than the Baroque style of the main part of the facade. The overall effect is pretty unharmonious. And it turns out this is a correct assessment, as the towers were replaced in 1854 (earthquake damage), while the main structure was completed in 1618. It’s also surprisingly difficult to photograph, being much larger than it appears, which makes it tricky to get it all in from the plaza. However, I rose to the challenge and managed to get a few good shots, aided by the beautiful light at dusk. The posterized photo at the top was taken from the plaza, though pre-posterization it was a bit on the dull side.
The interior is somewhat bland, being mostly white plaster, with gold accents. Surprisingly, even the gold is a bit lackluster, looking more brass-like.
Within there was also a reliquary with bits of bones of saints and illustrious Mexicans. Frankly, it struck me as rather ghoulish. What other religion in this day and age maintains bits of the dead bodies of its saints and revered members? Who from the church asks the family if they might cut off a bit of their dearly departed to keep in the church? How exactly do they broach the topic? What’s the pitch? “Just give us the big toe, Sra Gálvez, and we’ll put in an extra word of recommendation with God.” Who knows? There was at least one vertebra in the case, so they’re not just going after easy parts. I was simultaneously fascinated and repelled.
So where’s the clash of architecture, you ask? Well, the below is a good example, located on the Jardín de la Reforma, with a beautiful baroque church off to the left side. I can sort of understand allowing such a building along a side street, or farther out, but facing a historic plaza right in the heart of the Centro Historico?!?!? C’mon guys, you can do much better than that!
The church below is to the left of side of the photos above, and you can see a bit of the plaza. Though I’m not exactly in love with the building to the right of the church either, at least it makes a nod to its surroundings by using traditional or typical stone on the facade.
In any case, despite some of the questionable architectural decisions in Guadalajara, I did enjoy wandering around, and of course I had Steve Cotton’s visit to look forward to. After a bit of prodding, he finally relented and agreed to meet me the next day. Saludos for now, and thanks for stopping by!
As some of you know, I’m back in Boston now, suffering post-Mexico blues. Well, maybe not blues, but a certain sense of “back to the same old, same old.” I’ve actually been here for a few weeks and somewhat overwhelmed with the crush of little errands that have piled up. I’m going to keep posting for a while as if I’m still traveling, as there are more stories to share from the road. Thanks for your patience with my sporadic postings.