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We are traveling in Mexico again this winter of 2012
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Friday, March 19, 2010

Leon- old meets modern

Going back to Mexico trying to catch up on what we did there.
We took another day trip out of Guanajuato to the city of León about 40 miles up the road we came in on. It’s the 5th largest city in Mexico. And it is one of the most modern looking (read – looks like being in the US) towns we’ve been to. León was founded in 1575 – but little remains of that time. We saw the many contrasts that exist in the city, beautiful colonial buildings next to modern architecture. Lots of wide boulevards. Coming into the town we were on a wide four-lane divided street full of US stores and restaurants. If some one just dropped you on the street you would have thought you were in the southwestern US somewhere.
As we continued towards the central older part of town we passed one of the biggest Cathedrals we’ve seen. And it is quite new and amazing looking. Its full name is the Sanctuary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Construction of this temple was begun in 1920 and has continued off and on and now is considered 80% complete.
Unfortunately we didn’t stop and tour it.
We reached the Centro Historic and parked in a lot – walking the couple of blocks to the main plaza. There were still buildings there from the 16th Century but right next to a very old building would be a modern one. Kind of jarring to see. One thing that impressed us about the main plaza were the trees. Most of them were shaped into boxes or cones.
From there we walked up the narrow pedestrian street to the Cathedral. On the way we passed a Burger King and a KFC and numerous small restaurants – including an Argentine one along with the small taco stands and the Chinese restaurants. Even a Victoria’s Secret! Also saw a stained glass store with this glass piece of a Pope.
And this older man walking around with his guitar on his back.
The Cathedral, was awe inspiring. It is called the Basilica Cathedral of Our Holy Mother of the Light. Construction began in 1746, but was halted when the Jesuit order was expelled from Mexico. A very wealthy family took over its construction and it was finally completed in 1866. It has a combination of architectural styles – Baroque and Neo Classic.
Just inside the arch in the courtyard is a statue of one of the Popes. The inside of the church is absolutely beautiful.

Lots of large very old paintings, lots of gold leaf columns and arches and stained glass windows. Arched ceilings and gold chandeliers. Hand painted decorations on the walls highlighted by gold leaf. It has a very peaceful feel to it. Spent quite a bit of time just looking around.
This building was across the street from the church

Walked around the block and took this picture of the church - new construction going on.

Back to the main plaza, called Martyrs Square. The shaped trees and ballons for sale.There was another smaller church here – again amazing inside – lots of hand painted decorations on the walls and ceiling.
On the same side as this church is the Municipal Palace.
At one time in the mid 1800s it was used as a military barracks. Don’t know why we didn’t go in but we didn’t. Around the buildings on one side of the plaza are arched walkways. And narrow alleys that are full of small stores. Over these “alleys” the buildings connect forming an enclosed bridge giving kind of a European feeling to the section.
While here we saw a strange, at least to us, happening. There were several people, one a women the rest men, who were conduction a “purifying” ceremony of some sort. And people were lined up to be cleansed. The woman and the older man were dressed Huichol type clothing. Her in her long white skirt and blouse with rose colored trim, a wide brimmed straw hat from which her long, curley black hair streamed down her back. The older man had on a typical Huichol outfit with the embroidered trim and bag. He had a full gray beard and long black hair. To me none of them looked Huichol – they looked more “new age hippy.” Anyway they had a big incense holder and would pass it over and around the person wishing to be purified. Don’t know if money exchanged hands or not.

But it was interesting to watch. And you could see and smell the smoke as soon as you entered the plaza.
As we were walking towards the car The Driver had an encounter with some teenage girls. They stopped him to talk to him. In both English and Spanish – I think there was a little flirting going on but he says No.
Back in the car we drove to the “Leather District.” Wow! Over 35 square blocks of manufactures, warehouses, outlets and stores. Huge square block sized stores of leather merchandise. Everything from little leather saddle key chains to leather coats – men’s and women’s – all sizes shapes and colors. Whole buildings full of purses. Have never seen so many sizes, shapes and colors of purses in my life. Others full of boots or belts. This was an oversized boot for advertising.
One small stand selling purses

I read that over 60% of the shoes produced in Mexico are made here in León.
As we were nearing leaving one of the stores we heard loud drum beats. As we got outside we saw: a man playing the drum, one guy with a cloth and leather bulls head over his head, a woman dressed as a witch, a guy dressed as the devil who was lashing out with a bull whip and another guy dressed in black. They were dancing in the street to the drum beat. No idea what that was all about. But it was fun to watch.After being leathered out we went to the grocery store that was right next to Costco and across from Home Depot.
One thing we noticed was the rapid transit system. The big busses have their own lanes with passenger boarding from the center of the street.
We just touched the tip of the city.

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