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Mexico's colonial treasure house Puebla.

To experience the Spanish and Indian cultures that clashed and then converged to form the Mexican nation, there's no better place than the colorful, tile-clad city of Puebla and its compact, crafts-rich hinterland. Puebla is less than 2 hours by car from the Mexico City airport and on the way to Veracruz or Oaxaca. Founded by the Spanish in 1531 and occupied by them for nearly 300 years, Puebla is the best-preserved colonial city in all Mexico. Holy orders flourished here; hundreds of the city's buildings, many of them ecclesiastical (and of these, many richly adorned), date from the Spanish era. In nearby towns closer to the volcanoes live descendants of the Tlaxcaltecans and Cholulans-rivals of the Aztecs. On a hilltop at Cacaxtla, recently excavated murals have brought these ancestral warriors freshly to life. The tradition continues on the walls of the governor's palace in Tlaxcala-and in the preconquest ceramics, weaving, and basketry found throughout the region. Solidly constructed tile-and-brick churches-some now 400 years old-show the skill of their indigenous builders, and their exuberant interiors blaze with the fervid promise of paradise. Besides architecture and religious art, the church left Puebla another great legacy: its regional cookery. In the old convent kitchens, Spanish and Indian ingredients blended into a distinctive poblana (Pueblan) cuisine. Poblana dishes use familiar New World crops-beans, corn, chilies, tomatoes even chocolate. You taste the European influence in the slowly cooked meats and moist yeast breads. To whet your appetite for a visit, on pages 66 and 67 we explain how to create the city's favorite snack, a real mouth opener, which comes from the markets. Among the volcanoes, and founded by angels: a multihued mix of tile, mortar, and brick The region around Puebla stretches across a wide valley ringed by the tallest volcanoes in Mexico, a grander setting than Mexico City's, but one that also can be dimmed by smog. Poblanos call themselves Angelepolitanos. Angels get credit not only for founding the city, but for winging the 81/2-ton bell of Mary up to the cathedral's belfry. Church spires dominate the cityscape. Puebla takes pride in its heritage, but despite laws on the books protecting building exteriors in the historic city center, important buildings have disappeared overnight. These features can help you distinguish historic buildings: Ceramic tiles take on the name talavera when decorated in the style of Talavera de la Reina, the pottery center of Spain. The earliest tiles were glazed deep blue on a milky background. Later, they blossomed in greens and yellows. Paint colors also give clues to the age of buildings. Oxidized red or rust ornamented the earliest structures, from the 1500s. In the 17th and 18th centuries, yellow was in favor. An elaborate filigree of white stucco, named alfenique for a spun-sugar confection, dates from the 18th century. Massive carved wooden doors distinguish many buildings. Look in particular along Reforma in the first blocks west of the plaza. A sightseeing loop from the Plaza Principal The attractions listed are for a visit of a day or two and include some so new that they aren't even included in the more comprehensive tourist office information. To shorten the list, narrow the loop around the plaza. Unless stated, museum hours are 10 to 4:30 daily except Mondays. 1. Plaza Principal, laid out in 1531, is a tree-shaded ceremonial stage for the city, with the cathedral on one side, city hall on the other. At dusk, civic affairs give way to adolescent smooching. 2. The cathedral, started in 1575, has tallest towers in Mexico. 3. Palafox Library, on the second floor of Casa de la Cultura, is the oldest in the Americas (1644). Look in any time; walk in 10 to 5 Tuesdays, 10 to 4:30 Sundays. Downstairs, a small gallery and a performance space offer a look at today's Puebla. 4. Tourist bureau has pamphlets, maps, English-speaking guides, soccer tickets, a small crafts shop. Hours are 8 to 8 weekdays, 9 to 2 weekends. 5. Flor de Puebla Bakery is busy from 7 A.M. to 9 P.M. and offers seasonal specialties. (Poblanos never pass a bakery.) You can weigh in on a scale at the entrance. 6. Bello Museum, a former residence, has the city's best collection of talavera pottery and lacquer. 7. Rosary Chapel of Santo Domingo shimmers with gold ornamentation; it sets the standard for baroque in Mexico. 8. Convent of Santa Rosa has a wondrously intact 18th-century kitchen. One tiled counter ends with a built-in bowl, a dunce's dining corner for some out-of-favor nun. Upstairs, the crafts roundup (explanations in Spanish) is comprehensive but dusty. 9. Convent of Santa Monica, another nunnery now a museum, was used into the 1930s. The gloomy halls and portraits of suffering saints contrast with the sun-dappled courtyard. 10. El Lirio. The sisters in the kitchens also invented camote, a pumpkin-flavored sweet so popular that it's even the nickname of the local baseball team. Shop here for candies and to see the elegant mirror behind the counter. 11. San Francisco Church contains a convent dating from 1535, now a small state-run crafts store. The talavera tile mosaic on the main facade is the most famous in the city. 12. Casa del Alfenique is another house museum. It's worth a climb to the top floor to see the family's ornate chapel. 13. CREART, a crafts shop with regional clothing, is at 2 Oriente 202, convenient to Sanborn's store and restaurant; its second location is at 7 Oriente, near 16 de Septembre. 14. Casa de los Munecos bears tiled images of large figures. Some say these were intended as caricatures of city fathers who sued the owner for erecting a building taller than theirs. 15. Los Sapos Market, a square in the antiques district, has a lively Sunday flea market. Nearby shops include Macias, at 7 Oriente 401. It has a good selection of colonial-era objects, but irregular hours; call 42-4497. Newly opened next door at 403, Chapis sells stylish home furnishings. 16. Museo Amparo. Behind a well-tended colonial facade, a brand-new museum houses pre-Hispanic treasures, has a cafeteria, folk art, and a bookstore. It was designed by Pedro Ramirez Vasquez, who also did the anthropology museum in Mexico City. Hours are 10 to 4:30 daily except Tuesdays. Off the map, but just a taxi ride from the plaza Barrio de la Luz, a neighborhood just east of downtown, produces traditional clay cooking pots (cazuelas). View the operation at Alfareria de la Luz, Avenida M.A. Camacho 1404. Talavera de Puebla, in a historic courtyard structure at 4 Poniente 911, was our favorite stop for talavera tableware and tiles. There are 50 designs, and a 12-person, 69-piece set costs $1,000 to $1,500, plus $300 for packing and shipping to the U.S. The 43/4-inch tiles cost $2 to $16 each. Railroad Museum, recently opened, is in the old central station (11 Norte and 12 Poniente) that Benito Judrez inaugurated in 1869. On the sidings rest historic engines and cars. Signage is scant. Avenida Juarez, to the west, has trendiest shops and clubs. Forts of Loreto and Guadalupe celebrate the site of the Cinco de Mayo battle in 1862, in north part of city. The Indian hinterland: heading north toward Tlaxcala The Spanish founded Puebla as their refuge between Veracruz and Mexico City. When you leave it, you come to towns with Nahuatl names along with Spanish ones. On the trip north from Puebla on Highway 119, the climb is imperceptible but volcano views sharpen. Off goes the air conditioning, down rolls the window. In less than an hour, you overlook Tlaxcala, the smallest capital (75,000 people) in the republic's smallest state. From the size of the town's two central plazas, it appears the Spanish expected a grander future for Tlaxcala. Today's quiet pace can't help but make one glad they were wrong. Except for an appealing place to overnight, Tlaxcala has it all: monuments, crafts, prehistoric ruins, fine weather, distinctive food. For a good introduction, visit the governor's palace at the north end of the main plaza. In the grand tradition of Mexican muralists, local artist Desiderio Hernandes Xochitiotzin has depicted the region's history on the courtyard walls and is now moving up the stairwell and into the 19th century. Around the corner, at Avenida Juarez 18, is the local tourist office. Brochures and pamphlets are in Spanish. An ancient cobbled ramp leads from the smaller plaza to the former Convent of San Francisco. Near where it starts is Bazar, a small shop, the only place where we saw jewelry and old crafts for sale. At the top of the ramp, the cathedral presides over the city. It carries the date of 1526, before the founding of Puebla. Next door is a regional museum. Just down the hill, look for an open-air Gothic-style chapel built to entice Indians who might hesitate to enter the church proper. Farther down, a bull ring is tucked into the hill. No Ferdinands here: Tlaxcala raises fierce bulls. Corridas take place during the last week in October and the first two weeks in November. Northwest from the plaza (travel by cab) is the huge sanctuary of the Virgin of Ocotlin. Ask to see the 18th-century camarin, a baroque octagonal room behind the altar; it was constructed over 25 years by an untrained Indian craftsman. Three blocks west of the main plaza is the small, excellent, fairly new Casa de las Artesanias (folk art center). The guides are weavers, embroiderers, and pulque brewers who explain their crafts. In the open kitchen of the restaurant (fonda), women prepare regional specialties. There are also a small history section, a retail store, and an exhibition space that presents some of the state's best artisans. If you'd like to visit some craftspeople, this is the place to get details. From Tiaxcala to the 1,200-year-old paintings at Cacaxtia This 18-mile drive normally takes about half an hour, or it could take a lot longer if you decide to sleuth for some crafts. San Juan Huatzingo bakes and sends shaped and decorated flat breads (pan de fiesta) to fairs around the country. You can spot the chimneys of the ovens (hornos) up with the TV antennas. Or ask directions to a baker's house (casa del panadero). Nativitas sells willow baskets (cestas or canastas) mostly from Santa Polonia del Acalco, on the right as you enter town. Instead of going there, we drove into the center and turned left on the concrete road just before the church. At the crossroad, bear right past the church in Pueblo de Jesus. After 3 1/2 kilometers, turn left at the wall marking an old hacienda. Go to the back. We paid about $8 for a sturdy 18-inch-diameter basket. San Miguel del Milagro stretches up the hill just below the Cacaxtla parking lot. Take the first left. Partway up on the left in a blue-and-white house lives Martes Espinoza, who oversees the making of dulce alegria. These are cakes made of roasted amaranth seeds combined with honey and a dash of lime and stamped out with clean tuna can rims. Cacaxtla ruin occupies the entire top of a hill; views are grand. This site and Teotihuacin, near Mexico City, are thought to mark the Mayans' northern reaches. The hilltop is roofed to protect the murals and other excavations. The Battle Mural is largest and earliest. The site is open 10 to 5 daily except Mondays. In Cholula: a great pyramid and dazzling Indian churches Before Cortes, the Cholulans held sway over the region. The symmetrical hill in today's small town is what remains from the largest pyramid in the Americas. The Spanish, mindful of symbology in their conquest, placed a church right on the top. Because of Cholula's importance, the Franciscans went on a church-building binge not 365, or one for every day of the year, as legend has it, but a score of outstanding edifices. The Royal Chapel, built in 1541, has seven naves and 49 cupolas. It may be the only Moorish-inspired early building that survives in the Americas. Look for it on the east side of the large main plaza, next to San Gabriel Monastery. Coming from Puebla, you'll have to turn left at the plaza on Calle Aleman. At 17 Poniente, a mountain hiker sign marks the start of the Paso de Cortes. This 25-mile rutted dirt road to the pass between the two volcanoes marks the Spanish conqueror's route. It is slow going but passable except after big storms. Back on Aleman, drive about 3 miles to the next stop. Santa Maria Tonantzintia is small, but it's worth the entire trip. Here, newly converted Indian craftsmen called upon their unschooled talents to cover the walls with playful plaster cherubim in a swirl of flowers, fruits, animals, and devils. Hours posted are 9 to 1 and 3 to 5. The church is on the right; drive past the bollards and double back. San Francisco Acatepec is a mile farther. The facade is the attraction here: red brick studded with talavera tiles. Blue is said to be eternity, green the fertile crops, and yellow the saints. Huejotzingo, a farming town 9 miles from Cholula, has a massive 16th-century monastery and hosts one of the nation's liveliest carnivals, this year on February 12. Rifle-toting, blank-firing costumed marchers and dancers parade downtown. Tips to help you plan your visit to Puebla When to go. Temperatures are mild year-round. Rain usually falls between May and October. How to get there. The route to Puebla exits Mexico City through the teeming eastern suburbs, made even more chaotic by the construction of a new Metro line. The most painless way out is by bus. You get a reserved seat on an air-conditioned (no smoking) ADO bus leaving every 10 minutes from 7 A.M. to 8 P.M. (slightly less frequently other hours). It takes 2 hours on the Autopista, and costs a total of $3 one way. Buses to the east leave from the huge TAPO Terminal at the San Lazaro Metro Station (a short taxi ride from the airport). They arrive in Puebla at the new CAPU Terminal north of downtown. On the return, get off the ADO bus at Boulevard Aeropuerto and take a taxi to the airport or go on to TAPO. Getting around. Puebla should be a great walking city. Its architectural riches merit close inspection and are clustered in the flat historic center. But too many cars and diesel fumes make you want to avoid walking any distance. Fortunately, cabs are plentiful and cheap. Check that the rates are posted on a side rear window. In town, a trip should cost $2 to $4. By the hour, taxis cost $10. You could go to Cacaxtla, for example, have lunch in Tlaxcala, and return to Puebla for $50 and not be rushed. Daily except Monday mornings, the tourist office offers tours of the city in the morning and to Cholula in the afternoon with an English-speaking guide. Call 46-12-85; if possible, reserve the day before. Cost is about $14. Where to stay. Lodging is not the reason to visit. If you find a place you like, take it; the region is compact, and travel times aren't long. Prices given below are for a double room. Downtown Puebla. Hotel Colonial, Avenida 3 Oriente and Calle 4 Sur; telephone 46-46-12; $20. Next to the university, it offers more history and convenience than comfort and quiet; it has a glass-domed restaurant. Outskirts. El Meson del Angel, Hermanos Serdan 807; 48-2100; $65. Hotel, near the Autopista exit, is part of a resort chain. Meson del Molino, Calzada del Bosque 10; 48-70-60; $35. All six rooms face a balcony over the dining room. Hotel overlooks a historic mill; it's on the way to Cholula and difficult to find. Tlaxcala. Hotel Mision de Tlaxcala; (800) 648-7818; $62. About 15 minutes miles northeast of Tlaxcala, this remote resort appeals to vacationers from the capital. Cholula. Archeological Villas; (800) 258-2633; $45. Operated by Club Med, it's small and relaxed, with no pop-it beads or directors in sarongs, and has a good restaurant. It's time to eat. The Puebla region's restaurants, unlike its hotels, are a reason to plan a trip. Here is a cross-section. All specialize in traditional cuisine. Puebla. Fonda de Santa Clara, 3 Poniente 307, and at 3 Poniente 920. Best known. Bola Roja. 17 Sur 1305, and Dorada and Loreto shopping centers. Very popular. Las Bodegas del Molino, San Jose del Puente de Mexico. Elegant, but difficult to find. Nevados Rincon de San Angel, Avenida 5 Oriente 1202. Newly opened, in an attractive historic home in a quiet area. Tlaxcala. Las Casuelas, Mexico Highway 136, just west of town. Authentic, with an open kitchen. Albergue de la Loma Restaurant, Calle Guerrero 58. View. 66

A volcano picnic Picnic platform is dusty trunk of car that carried picnickers from Cholula Market for 45 minutes to edge of snowy Popocatepetl. The market, just west of the main square, gets liveliest on Wednesdays and Sundays. Inside we found avocados, bananas, papayas, jicama, and limes to squirt over everything-including our fingers when we were finished-and salsa in a donated bottle with cap we punctured for pouring. Convey to the vendor that the fruit is for right now and you'll be sold the ripest. The sellers have painstakingly arranged their produce, so just point. Large bags for carrying out are sold, not provided. From shops surrounding the market came spit-roasted chicken, hard cider from Huejotzingo, warm tortillas, and the towel to hold a kilo's worth-about 24. Tortillas replaced plates and all utensils except a knife for cutting. Total cost? Just over $10. The little-traveled dirt road where we pulled out is the Paso de Cortes. It was the route of the conquistador when he departed Cholula for the Aztec capital. Puebla's rich culinary style springs from its multicultural heritage. Built by the Spanish and visited by a

smattering of other Europeans, the city developed a cuisine whose eclectic style sets it apart from Mexican food most Westerners are familiar with. The French introduced skilled baking with wheat and yeast. Among the many fine breads in Puebla, semitas, the top-hatted crusty rolls, stand out. Hats are lifted off to make way for sandwich fillings; the most common is breaded veal cutlets with pickled carrots and jalapenos. If you visit Puebla, you can order a sandwich at a semitas stand. One of the best known-is La Poblanita, in the Melchior Ocampo market at 21 Poniente between 4 and 6 Sur. If you want to try the sandwich at home, here's the recipe. Semitas dough, formed into oval rolls with I slash on top, becomes bolillos. If rolls have 2 slashes on top, Pueblans call them teleras. Teleras, filled with tinga (a long-simmered stew of flank steak), become sandwiches called tortas, a favorite evening snack. Look for semolina flour and bread flour in some supermarkets or in natural-food stores. Semolina flour also shows up in Italian grocery stores, and in fancy-food and cookware stores. Semitas (Top-hatted Puebla rolls)
 2 cups warm water(110[deg.])
 1 envelope active dry yeast
 1 tablespoon sugar
 2 tablespoons salt
 About 2 cups each bread flour (or
 all-purpose flour) and semolina
 1/2 cup each dehydrated masa flour
 (corn tortilla flour) and yellow or
 white cornmeal; or 1/3 cup each
 all-purpose bread flour and
 semolina flour

In a bowl, combine water, yeast, sugar, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt; let stand until yeast is softened, about 10 minutes. Mix together 2 cups each bread flour and semolina flour, the masa flour, and the cornmeal. Stir 3 cups flour mixture with yeast. Beat with a heavy spoon or an electric mixer until dough is stretchy. Stir in remaining flour mixture, then beat with a dough hook or a heavy spoon until dough is elastic and only slightly sticky when lightly touched; scrape bowl often. Cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until double in volume, about 1 hour. Beat air from dough with dough hook or spoon. With bread or all-purpose flour, lightly coat a board. Scrape dough onto it and divide into 8 equal pieces. Working with I piece at a time, knead dough into a smooth ball. With a rolling motion and the side of your hand, press down on ball to form a figure 8, with 1/3 of the dough on 1 end (step 1, page 66) and a midriff about 1/2 inch wide. Flatten both balls to about 1/4 inch thick (step 2). Gently lift the smaller round, twist over, and lay it on larger section (step 3). Gently press top round to secure to base. Set rolls, as formed, about 2 inches apart on a nonstick 12- by 15-inch baking sheet (you'll need 2). Let stand, uncovered, until puffy, about 45 minutes. When first pan of rolls is ready to bake, mix remaining salt with 3 tablespoons hot water and brush water over the rolls. Set a large (about 12- by 15-in.) pan on lowest rack in a 450[deg.] oven; pour 1/2 inch boiling water into pan. Position remaining oven rack just above water and place pan of rolls on oven rack. Bake until richly browned, about 20 minutes. (If you have 2 ovens, you can duplicate setup; otherwise, bake rolls in sequence.) Serve warm, or let cool on racks; rolls are best eaten freshly made. If made ahead, freeze when cool. Makes 8. Per roll: 320 cal.; 11 g protein; 1.3 g fat; 65 g carbo.; 1,223 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.
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Date:Feb 1, 1991
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