Thursday, August 15, 2013

Two Hotels of the North. Part 2

We'd long considered Nuevo Laredo a sort of ugly necessity when crossing the border into Mexico from Texas. We recently had to go there to nationalize our vehicle. It wasn't fun to do, the distance from home is great, and the temperature in the Rio Grande Valley in August at times reached 109º F.

So it was important to have a conveniently located, comfortable hotel for our sanctuary. We chose the Hotel Colón Plaza in which to stay two nights on our recent trip to Nuevo Laredo, based on TripAdvisor reviews and personal recommendations. It's located in a surprisingly attractive, upscale part of the city. We were comfortable, except for the heat when walking to and from Los Ajos restaurant and nearby branch banks. Note that if you go to Los Ajos, the heavily fortified and guarded building next to it, immediately to the north, is the U.S. Consulate. I recommend walking on the far side of the street, as the security guards are justifiably vigilant, especially after a bomb attack of April, 2010.

It was easy to find and the rate was a reasonable $715 pesos for a double room. The room was a little small, but very well outfitted and ample for our needs. The style is serious "Business Class", and while it didn't warm my heart, it was fine. Parking was in a walled lot behind the hotel with access to the lobby.

The service environment seemed "correct" and a bit "stuffy".

The main things were that the elevator, AC, and bath worked. There is an attractive swimming pool, but we never had time to use it. Although our room faced a busy avenue, the interior was quiet, as it was set back from the street and had heavy curtains as well.

On Sunday evening, the desk clerk told me that the hotel restaurant "Triskel" was not open and was not open for breakfast on Monday. This was not a big issue for us, as we took all our meals at the Restaurante "Los Ajos", an inexpensive, pleasant and informal restaurant 800 meters east, at Calle Álvaro Obregón and Paseo Colón. I will review that separately.

The bathroom was a bit small, but worked fine and like the rest of the room, spotlessly clean. The shower was o.k. but not positionable as it was fixed directly above in the shower stall. The hot water arrived fairly quickly but with only moderate pressure. The bath amenities were above average.

The Wifi worked very well, and there was a large and comfortable desk, plenty electrical outlets, drawers, shelves and adequate but not generous closet space.

The only notable glitch was that the electronic key cards would not work at times. The receptionist got one to work, but a second never did. One is needed to place in a slot inside the room to keep the electricity going. Another is useful if one guest wants to go out while the other stays in. On our return one evening, neither card worked and I had to go to Reception to have them reactivated.

There were the standard two bottles of purified water in the room each day, but on Sunday, when I requested more, the desk clerk told me that there weren't any. What he failed to reveal is that there is an alcove on our floor, close to our room, with a big jug of purified water. It's there for the guests to use to refill their water bottles.

I would have given the hotel 5 stars but for these small annoyances.
(A version of this review appeared on

I don't have any photos of the hotel, but you can look at these.)

View Larger Map

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Two Hotels of the North. Part 1

We recently traveled to the Frontera del Norte that divides México from the United States. It's a long drive from Pátzcuaro to Nuevo Laredo, and we planned to do it in two stages. A few friends of ours are able to do it in one, 12 hour grind, but we value our comfort and sanity too much.  We were also driving without air conditioning. We decided to pause for rest and refreshment at the Hotel Del Parque, in Matehuala, San Luis Potosí. It's at approximately the midpoint of the trip.

The better known hotels in Matehuala are out on what we might call the Business Bypass to Highway 57D. Of those, the best known is the stalwart Las Palmas Midway Inn. But we had read good things about the Del Parque, and we weren't disappointed. It's located close to the center of town. It's a first rate establishment, offering excellent accommodations, quality service and a surprisingly good restaurant.

We found the hotel with only a little difficulty. It's located at the corner of Calle Bocanegra #232 at Calle Rayón. That's at the southwest corner of the park.

There's a secure, underground parking garage. There's an attractive lobby and spacious lounging areas with comfortable furniture on each spacious floor landing. The stairs are broad and easy, but there's also an elevator.

Del Parque Lobby
First floor lounge
On our first night, while heading northward, we ended up in the Junior Suite, because no doubles were available. There was only either a solitary single available, one of several rooms with windows that face the interior lounge areas. The other was the Jr. Suite was a splurge, but a good value, at $835 pesos a night. It had a big screen tv (which we didn't watch), a mini refrigerator, which came in handy, a king bed, plenty of desk and shelf space and a reasonably sized closet. If they would include a microwave oven, it could be a very nice, spacious studio apartment.

The bathroom was spacious, with separate toilet, lavatory and shower sections. The hot water arrived quickly on demand, and water pressure was adequate. The only flaw was some sewer gas coming up the drains, both from the shower and the sink. We were able to isolate that by closing the bathroom doors.

On our return, a few nights later, we arrived earlier and had more choice as to rooms. This time we chose a double, $775 pesos, and it was more than satisfactory, although it lacked a mini fridge.

Double room with view of the park.
Both rooms in which we stayed were remarkably quiet.

Usually, we avoid hotel restaurants, but this time we gravitated to the adjoining Restaurante Los Nogales.

Informal but well run restaurant "Los Nogales"
It was extremely convenient, attractive, and the service and food were good. Both of our evening meals were light. On our first night, I had Enchiladas Potosinas, and Sra. Cuevas had an Ensalada César Con Pollo. On our return a few days later, she had Caldo Tlalpeño and I had a rich and soothing Crema de Elote and a couple of pretty good Empanadas Argentinas.

Enchiladas Potosinas
Caldo Tlalpeño

Crema de Elote...Soothing...Creamy
Where the Restaurante Los Nogales really shines is with its daily breakfast buffet. The Sunday morning offerings seemed a little more varied than those of the following Wednesday, but still a good value at $108 pesos per person. Cereals, yogurts, fresh juices, piping hot meat  and egg dishes of various types, and if you desired, the kitchen would prepare special requests. The Sunday selections even included menudo. I tried a small amount, and it was superior to any I'd had in Pátzcuaro  or Morelia.

Menudo "Los Nogales"

A few of the hot dishes on the breakfast buffet


Comfort: *****

Service: *****

Wifi: various routers, worked well most of the time. I had a little difficulty connecting at first.

Housekeeping: Immaculate

Price: $735 (sgl); $775 (dbl), $835 (Jr, Suite), in high season, which is when we were there.

Restaurant: See above description.

Food: ***1/2

Service: ****

Price: $-$$

Rest rooms (off hotel lobby) clean and modern.

The now obligatory bathroom shot

Location: Google Maps is a little bit off on this. Hotel is actually to the west of the place marker.)

View Larger Map

The Seven Year Hitch

La Casa, July, 2006
We have just marked the seventh anniversary of our arrival at el Rancho. When we first saw the house that was to become our home, we were immediately attracted to it. True, it wasn't as nice looking then; a one story, flat roofed, unpainted building on a big lot. But we knew right away that we wanted to live here.

The ugly duckling exterior belied the attractive interior. Two bedrooms, a bath (complete with bathtub), a garage with an overhead door, lots of windows, and most attractive of all, an ample kitchen that called to me to cook in it.

Mi Cocina
Since we moved here, our landlords put on a traditional, red tiled roof and painted the exterior. (It already needs to be repainted.) Early this year, they rebuilt the outer walls, defense against would-be, opportunistic predators.

The improved house in summer
We also like that there are no stairs or changes of levels in the house. We also enjoy relative tranquility. Most of the traffic that passes consists of a few farm vehicles and small herds of cattle.

We were quickly accepted into the community, which consists of a handful of closely knit families. We used to participate more in local fiestas, but we have in the last few years pulled back some. It's just too exhausting to go to every fiesta. We also limited our fiesta going to those within a radius of a few kilometers. We don't want to drive at night if at all possible.

Overall, living in this small, pastoral community has been a very satisfactory experience. Every time that we turn off the main highway and travel the last three kilometers to the village, we feel that we are headed homeward.

Splendid backdrop mountain scenery

We're eager to sign up for another seven year hitch.