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Published: December 25th 2017
Geo: 19.1348, -96.1414
We stayed in Veracruz to be able to reach Xalapa (sometimes spelt Jalapa) and visit the museum there (see next blog). There was no hostel in Xalapa on the Hostelworld website (and that seems to be the only site that accepts our card payments!) so Veracruz it was.
In some ways it reminded me of Brighton, very much a city by the sea, but with other interests and history apart from tourism. We visited the very informative town museum in a colonial building, and followed the history of the town from its founding in 1519 by Hernan Cortes, the Spanish explorer and conquerer, through to the 1950's. At times it has been a very prosperous city, with numerous activities and industries such as developing trade and access to inland Mexico, developing commercial links with other countries, shipbuilding, supporting the fishing industry, and oil. What surprised me was the amount of immigration into the area, especially in the early 1900's and from countries including China, Lebanon, Iran, and Russia amongst others. This brought commerce and skills which lead to one of its wealthiest periods when the lifestyle of the elite of the town equalled that of any European or North American
When we walked out of the museum the guard shouted after us very gruffly, “Hey, you” and we stopped, wondering what we had done wrong. However, he only wanted us to write in the visitors book and he had struggled to find a couple of English words to stop us leaving, and that was why it had sounded threatening. I duly wrote a comment in my best Spanish and was rewarded with big smiles from both him and the female curator, and he added, “very good Spanish”, so we were all happy.
One of the pictures in the museum was of a famous cafe, Cafe Parroquia, founded in 1881 and still operating, so we went in to have a coffee. It had hardly changed from the museum photograph. If you order coffee the waiter brings a glass (on a saucer with a spoon) containing a small shot of coffee. Then another waiter walks around with 2 large old fashioned kettles, one containing more coffee, and the other hot milk and pours ( from a great height) the right combination to give the strength you choose. Once you have received your glass you are meant to hit it very loudly with
the spoon to call the man with the kettles. It has to be loud as the cafe is large and very busy. When it came my turn I couldn't bring myself to do it, so I waved the glass questioningly at the original waiter. He stared closely at me for a second, obviously decided I was just too English for the task, picked up the spoon and hit the glass long and hard. I felt such a feeble failure! I hasten to add that Jim wasn't even contemplating action, he was waiting for me to embarrass myself. They had live entertainment as you can see in the photographs so it had a lively atmosphere.
Because of the prosperity of the town, the colonial heritage and its important naval role, some of the buildings are stunning, as are the numerous statues. In Yucatan the local culture was reflected in murals, in Veracruz it is in statues. They commemorate famous people and historical events, reflect the town's values and hopes for the future. We even found a statue of a woman holding a laptop.
Since the 60's/70's it looks as though the fortunes of the town have slumped and many of the hotels
from that time are looking run down, but there seems to be an initiative to knock many of them down and replace them with more opulent resort style hotels. There are many poor properties but also some really superb houses. Unfortunately we had very strong winds on 2 days during our stay (so strong I thought the windows were at risk) so we probably did not see the beach of Veracruz at its best.
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It seems a very pretty place. The glass and the spoon are a tradition, the bread and the breakfast are also delicious at La Parroquia.Que bonito!!!