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Mexico Travel - Monterrey
( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )
IF YOU ARE TRAVELING BY AUTOMOBILE, MONTERREY IS by far the most convenient first stop past the border. It is 146 miles from Nuevo Laredo, and you can pass the customs and immigration in the morning without too much rush, and still be in Monterrey in time to see the sights before the buildings are closed at four in the afternoon.
Just before entering Monterrey, you will pass the Amaro Military Field. Continuing straight along, you will finally come to a group of guides who will ask to direct you to your hotel. You may not want one, but you will certainly need one. The city is a maze of oneway streets, and the road marking is confusing beyond belief. If you are going to a hotel, one of these guides will take you there by the shortest route, and if you are merely driving through for the first time, he will be more than useful to guide you through the city and put you on the right road.
Monterrey will seem very "Mexican" to you on your way into the country, but far less so on the way out. As a matter of fact, it is, like Nuevo Laredo, more or less of a movie conception of Mexico. Consequently, while I advise you to stop over for a few hours on the way in, if you are traveling by automobile, I do not think you should bother on the way out. If you are traveling by train, you need not stop there at all.
This does not in any sense mean that Monterrey is an inconsequential city. It is one of the chief industrial centers of Mexico, and its 160,00o inhabitants are busy and hard working. But from a tourist point of view, and in comparison with other Mexican cities, it offers little of interest.
What to See in Monterrey
One of the great sights of Monterrey is the Obispado (the Bishop's Palace). It is newer than many of the buildings in Mexico, having been built only about two hundred years ago. The Obispado was badly damaged during the revolutions of that turbulent period following the death of Diaz, but enough remains to make a visit worth while. This old mission-fortress stands on an eminence giving a fine view of the whole town.
It is believed in Monterrey that a tunnel once connected the Obispado with the Cathedral, a mile and a half away, passing through the smaller Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the way. It may be true, but I have heard legends of these connecting tunnels in many old towns, and so far no one has ever shown me the tunnel!
The CATHEDRAL is one of the sights that should not be missed. It is not so impressive as some of the other churches, but if it is your first Mexican cathedral, it will give you a good idea of what you may expect to see in more elaborate form later on. The tower is beautiful and well proportioned, with the bells hanging in full view, as they do in most Latin-American churches. There is some fine carving around the great central doors, and although the rest of the facade is comparatively simple, it is decidedly effective.
The Cathedral was begun in 1630, but it was not completed until 1 800. It has been so perfectly preserved, both within and without, that it does not begin to look its age. The exterior might have been built last week, and the colors of the interior are as fresh as though they had just been applied. It is the custom in Latin and LatinAmerican countries to paint the interiors of the churches in vivid colors, with many elaborate convolutions of design.
The proportions of the interior are good, but otherwise there is little to catch the eye, except a fine painting of the crucifixion on the left wall as you face the altar.
On the first altar inside the door, still on the left side of the church, is an exquisite little carved wood crucifix. Don't miss it.
The inevitable beggar is usually on the left side of the door as you come out.
Since the majority of the tourists who visit the church are Americans, the sign which the church authorities have found necessary to affix to the outside of the door is somewhat humiliating. It informs all guides accompanying tourists to make sure that their charges behave properly within the church, and also requests tourists not to tramp around the church during the celebration of the ceremonies.
Beside the Cathedral is the casino, a private club, but open to tourists. Before going there, you should ask your hotel management what is going on there and what credentials you will need.
The PALACIO DE GOBIERNO (Governor's Palace) is the great sight of the town, at least according to the inhabitants. It is situated on a little plaza, and in front of it stands the statue of Benito Juarez.
The building itself is a huge two-story affair, built of a kind of brownish stone, and decorated with Corinthian columns, many eagles, and a balustrade along the top. It is such a perfect example of i 860-7o architecture that it requires a real effort to believe that it was begun in 1895 and finished in 1908.
The interior is rapidly falling apart, and no one seems to care. It is now being used as government offices, but the old supreme court room, with a worn spot on the carpet where condemned men stood for sentence, is pre served as a sort of museum. Here can be seen an old printing press, famous in Mexican history as the one on which were printed the manifestos leading to Mexican independence, and three of the rifles used by the firing squad which executed Maximilian.
The reception room is still used by the governor. It is heavily corniced in Second Empire style, and even more heavily draped. The ceiling was painted by a six teen-year-old girl from Monterrey. At least so the guide told me. But the great decorative feature of the room is the line of brass spittoons, of commanding height and capacity, running down the middle of the room!
The draperies are rapidly disintegrating, and the brocade on the carved chairs is showing much wear. The chairs themselves are of appalling design, but exquisite workmanship.
Just behind the Governor's Palace on the side of another square is the small CHURCH OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS, somewhat older in appearance than the Cathedral. It is worth only a glance, but don't overlook it entirely.
Facing the back of the Governor's Palace is the new FEDERAL BUILDING, housing the post office, telegraph office, and other federal bureaus. The view of the town from the top of the tower is exceptionally good.
The chamber of commerce maintains a small but interesting INDUSTRIAL MUSEUM of products of Monterrey. Don't fail to see the unusual displays and the relief picture map of the Laredo-Mexico City Highway (if it is still there).
There are several sights near town which you will undoubtedly enjoy. One of the best is CHIPINQUE MESA. This is famous as a summer resort, because of its excellent climate and the beauty of the view over the plain. It is about twelve miles from Monterrey in the Sierra Madre range (along a paved road) and at a height of 4,200 feet above sea level. There is a good restaurant here, where native singers regale the patrons with Mexican songs.
Very interesting to Edsterllm is HUASTEGA CANYON. This is about ten miles from Monterrey, partly by dirt road. Before starting out for the canyon, I suggest that you inquire at your hotel as to whether or not the road is in good condition.
The GARCIA CAVES are practically unexplored. To visit them you will need a native guide. Your hotel can probably give you complete information as to where you can hire one and how much it will cost.
The HORSE TAIL FALLS are really beautiful but are best visited on the way to or from Mexico City, if you are traveling there by motor. They are a short distance from the Pan-American Highway, about twenty-five miles south of Monterrey. If you are not going further south by motor than Monterrey, or if you are traveling by rail with a stopover, you should include this as a side trip. Your road to the falls will branch off from the Pan-American Highway at VILLA DE SANTIAGO, one of the most typically "native" towns of northern Mexico.
What to Do in Monterrey
All the better hotels have good restaurants. For a restaurant not connected with a hotel, SANBORN'S, a branch of the house of the same name in Mexico City, is good, and not expensive. They serve both typically American and typically Mexican food. It is an excellent place to make the acquaintance of Mexican dishes, for the waitresses are very accommodating and will quite willingly describe the Mexican foods to you.
The LIDO is well recommended for dinner. The cuisine is international, and there is an orchestra for dancing. Monterrey's best night club, the TERPSICORE GARDENS, is about two miles out on Bolivar Street. It has a good orchestra and a floor show.
GOLF is available on the beautiful links of the Monterrey Country Club, near Saddle Mountain. There are TENNIS courts at the club as well.
For HORSEBACK RIDING you should try the ESCONDIDA COLONIAL MOUNTAIN CLUB, six miles out of town. They have thirty miles of trails, and horses can be hired here by the hour or by the day. This club also has two SWIMMING POOLS.
POLO is played at irregular intervals at the Army Post.
What to Buy in Monterrey
CURIOS abound. Most of them are not worth buying, but there are occasional good ones. The curio stores, and in fact almost all the other stores you will be interested in, are grouped around the three large hotelsthe Monterrey, the Grand Hotel Ancira, and the Colonial.
POTTERY is attractive and cheap. Avoid the too "arty" types. The pottery for sale in Monterrey did not impress me as being particularly distinctive.
Things of real worth can be found at SANBORN'S (a curio shop as well as a restaurant) and in the RELOJERIA ALLEMANA, near the Hotel Monterrey.
TILES, either singly or for table tops (or even for whole houses), are distinctly a local product. They are inexpensive, and some of them are quite beautiful. The LADRILLERA MONTERREY maintains an exhibition room at Zaragoza Sur 1027.
FURS and pelts are sold in the curio stores and by vendors on the street.
LEATHER GOODS are for sale in many stores. They are almost invariably attractive, but are naturally found in greatest profusion in Mexico City.
PERFUMES are a good buy, but be careful not to buy a prohibited brand. The best place to buy is at the stands in the larger hotels. Nueva China is well spoken of for perfumes, and any of the large curio stores are quite reliable.
Where to Stop in Monterrey
Probably the Hotel Monterrey is the most American. It is large, new, and modern, and has an excellent restaurant and a good coffee shop.
On opposite sides of the street, about a block away, are the Colonial and the Grand Hotel Ancira. They are both excellent. The Ancira is a little more Mexican than the Colonial, but both are recommended by the AAA.
Less pretentious but well spoken of are the Hotel Continental and the Imperial. Decidedly modest, with no dining room, but with rooms with baths at rates as law as at a tourist court, if not lower, and right in the heart of things, is the little Hotel Plaza.
Tourist courts are almost always luxurious and are well worth considering. The Regina Courts, on the north side of town, and the Derro de la Silla, two miles to the south, are both excellent.