Welcome to Mordor.
I mean Welcome to Monterrey.
How scary is that fog-covered mountain, just a few hundred yards from Estadio BBVA Bancomer, where Atlanta United will play Monterrey on Wednesday in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the Champions League?
It’s freakin’ scary.
But it’s awesome.
And it is my final destination in a trip that started on Sunday in Atlanta, continued to Washington D.C. for Sunday’s loss at D.C. United, came back to Atlanta where I hung out in Hartsfield Airport for a few hours before flying to Monterrey, Mexico.
Come along with me in the second edition of my travel digi-blog, coming on the heels of the mildly successful, award-eligible recap of my trip to Costa Rica to cover Atlanta United at Herediano.
PULLING BACK THE CURTAIN
So, my boss at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chris, gave me permission in late January, soon after the MLS schedule came out, to go ahead and book every road trip in the league for the season.
So, I did.
It will be a miracle if all my flights dates are correct. I’ll cross that challenge when I come to it.
One thing that I didn’t think about, because I couldn’t, is the CONCACAF Champions League.
So, after Atlanta United scored two goals in the first half against Herediano on Thursday in Kennesaw, it dawned on me that I was likely going to be flying in some way from Washington D.C. to Monterrey, Mexico for the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
I had hoped that the quarterfinals of the Champions League would be played on Thursday, which would allow me to fly home from D.C. on Monday and then fly to Mexico on Wednesday morning.
No such luck.
I found out about an hour after the 4-0 win against Herediano that the Champions League game would be on Wednesday.
That meant a press conference on Tuesday.
That meant there would be no point in flying from D.C. to Atlanta and then to Monterrey.
So, I called Delta on Friday to see how much it would cost to cancel my return flight to Atlanta from D.C. and instead fly from D.C. to Monterrey.
It turns out, it rhymed with $2,000.
Or maybe it didn’t rhyme.
So, instead I chose to fly from D.C. to Atlanta, hang out with a few thousand of my closest friends at Hartsfield, and then fly to Monterrey.
NOW, HOW DO I PUSH THE CURTAIN BACK?
There are things I don’t want you seeing.
Is there a button or something?
A plastic pole-sticky thing that hangs down and will break in less than two weeks?
I give up.
SUNDAY, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Would you like two examples of how bad of a photographer I am?
Here you go, courtesy of the majesty of the U.S. Capitol mixed with an I-Phone 7 and dragged down by my inability to anticipate the sites of landmarks that have been around for hundreds of years as my taxi sloooowwwwlllyyyy drives past.
If you squint, you can see the top of the Washington monument in the first photo and the Capitol in the second photo.
Did you see them?
Here are better ones from the interwebs.
Back to stories.
While in the lobby of my hotel, I ran into two Atlanta United supporters, Frank and Kevin. There were a few more supporters on my flight into Reagan.
Audi Field, which is about a 15-minute walk from the hotel, is in a up-and-coming part of D.C.
Walking from my hotel to Audi Field, you pass this:
I hear it cost about two Bryce Harpers to construct.
Five more minutes and you get here:
It cost about 1-1/3 Bryce Harpers to construct.
Lastly, here’s one more photo of the Washington Monument. I’m serious this time.
I promise the Washington Monument is just over that corner stand.
MONDAY, BACK IN ATLANTA
If you never walked from the T Gates to the F Gates at Hartsfield, it will take you about 35 minutes, is about 1.3 miles in distance, and you can burn about 110 calories if you are an overweight, middle-aged man.
I, of course, immediately consumed about four times what I burned with a lunch of Mongolian Steak.
I could have had tacos, but it seemed not right considering my destination and desire to consume authentic Mexican food.
That’s not to say Mexican food in the U.S. isn’t authentic, but I expect the food in Mexico to be different.
By the way, a quick Google search shows that there are more than 20 Mexican restaurants in Georgia with Monterrey included in their names.
MONDAY NIGHT, MONTERREY, MEXICO
Behold the majesty that is exotic Monterrey!
There’s a Wal-Mart! A Sam’s Club! A Kia dealership! A Lowe’s!
I could have stayed in Carrollton.
Seriously, when I booked my hotel, I was looking for proximity to the stadium. I’m pretty close. I later decided to see what’s around my hotel. The above photo is what popped up. It made me laugh.
“Welcome to Monterrey” either sounds like the title of a song by Florida-Georgia Line (sung in a nasally, auto-tuned-but-still flat voice):
“Welcome to Monterrey
We are going to par-ty
You and me baby all day
on a warm night Mexico way”
Or my personal favorite Fallout Boy (screamed in a chanting-ear-bleeding-causing rhythm):
“Wel Come to Mon Ter Rey
I’m the best Ci-ty
Of this Cen-Tur-Y
Chant A-Long With Me”
Here’s how my first few hours in Mexico went.
Most of these issues are of my own making, but I thought it would be fun to share while you keep in mind that I’ve already shared in the Costa Rica digi-blog that I’m not the savviest traveler.
First, after leaving the airport, it took me a second to figure out that you can’t just go out and hail a taxi. You must use a kiosk, where you randomly select a taxi company. After doing that, and paying for the ride, you go outside the find that company’s station.
The taxi company I randomly selected didn’t have a sign. Or at least, it had a sign, but apparently had changed names between the time I selected it at the kiosk and walked outside. So, that was fun figuring out which company was mine. I did find my taxi company. The driver was very nice.
As we made the short trip, I saw a sign for a fast-food chain that serves Mexican food and is popular in the U.S. All I could think about was Michael Scott’s favorite pizza place in New York.
After checking into the hotel, I went to my room. As I was talking on the phone with my beautiful and loving wife Annette, I explored the room.
I couldn’t turn the lights on. I couldn’t turn the air on. I couldn’t turn anything on. (That’s what she said, in another homage to Michael Scott).
After going back to the front desk to inquire if I was in fact the stupidest person to ever check into their hotel, they patiently and expertly informed that I must insert my room key into a small box beside the door of my room. It’s like a master switch for all things electric in the room. Once the key is inserted, the electricity is turned on. That was brand new information. Brilliant, and brand new.
I just realized they didn’t answer my question.
The non-answer may be the answer.
So, now that I had mastered electricity, I thought it would be time to master cuisine.
I walked across the alley to Sierra Madre Brewing Company. It’s like a sports bar where I don’t understand anything that’s being said ... which isn’t dissimilar to me in Atlanta, now that I think about it.
I was escorted to the bar. I ordered tacos and a local beer.
Both were good.
I then asked for the check.
Here’s where the fun began.
The bartender, Frida, brought the check. I handed her my credit card.
It took the google translate app and another waiter for us to resolve that I did, in fact, want to use my American Express and not charge the food to the hotel. I didn’t realize that, though the restaurant isn’t physically connected to the hotel, it’s considered the hotel’s restaurant.
We all got a good laugh.
I need to learn Spanish.
Remember the map I posted above?
Here’s the view out of my hotel.
As I said ... it’s like I never left metro Atlanta.
Anyway, I have plans for the day, so please keep reading.
TUESDAY MID-MORNING, AFTERNOON
I decided to go to the Macroplaza, which is in downtown Monterrey.
It’s a long park featuring numerous museums with the Catedral de Monterrey at the park’s entrance. Whenever I travel, I enjoy visiting the Catholic cathedrals. St. Patrick’s in Montreal is inspiring.
As my Uber driver whisked me from Carrollton, I mean the outskirts of Monterrey, to downtown Monterrey, we came across a statue of Cookie Monster, placed in the median of a busy highway. Apparently, it’s a sign for Plaza Sesamo. As has been established, I was incapable of taking a photo of Senor Monster. Nor can I find one on Google. You’ll have to come down here and look for him yourself.
Traffic in Monterrey is very calm, unlike the experience in Costa Rica.
Drivers stay in lanes. Drivers use turn signals. Drivers still honk horns, but typically only when people aren’t turning left fast enough.
There were certainly no marauding motorcyclists.
I kind of miss them.
It felt very much like we were in the U.S.
We arrived at the Macroplaza a few minutes later.
The Catedral de Monterrey is breathtaking.
The cathedral’s construction took place from 1770-1889.
Leaving the cathedral and entering the park, this dominates the skyline.
It is the Commerce Beacon. It was designed by famous Mexican architect Luis Barragnan. It was inaugurated in Dec. 1984. It takes 360 liters of paint to cover it. It’s orange. Not a Tennessee or Clemson or Texas orange. It is its own orange.
Continuing through the Macroplaza, this was next:
No idea what it is, but it’s under repair. It does look cool. Josef Martinez would look good while holding a trident, I think. Jay Riddle, get on that.
Next is the Museo del Palacio, whose plaza includes these two statues:
And then the building, which I photographed from two angles because that’s how much I love you:
The Museo del Palacio contains a history that details the history of Nuevo Leon and Monterrey. The building opened in 1908.
This was of importance to me:
It so happens that certain museums in Monterrey are free on Tuesdays and Sundays. So, after walking through the Museo del Palacio, I headed to the Museo de Historia Mexicana, located across the plaza.
As you can tell from the name, it showcases Mexico’s history. The only issue for my ignorant self is everything is in Spanish. There weren’t many English placards to help. The Museo del Palacio featured English placards in every room.
Anyway, here are a few things that caught my eye:
It’s scarier in person.
It’s an exhibit dedicated to the plants, trees and animals of Mexico.
It’s just mind-boggling to me that people could create these items. It’s inspiring, especially when I’m complaining that the wireless at the hotel was out for almost 12 hours. If I were alive back then and asked to carve something to inspire the people I’m afraid we’d all be a lot dumber right now.
This is a model of a Mayan plaza.
And then I came across this cool item in the gift store:
Done with the museums, it was time for lunch. I knew just where I wanted to go because someone on twitter recommended it: Taqueira Juarez. It was about a 10-minute walk from the Macroplaza, and deeper into the neighborhoods of Monterrey. I channeled my inner Anthony Bourdain and off I went.
The local college was letting out, so dozens of younger folks zoomed past me on their way to do whatever it is young folks do nowadays.
I arrived at Taqueira and, using Google Translator, told the waiter that I was told this restaurant had the best tacos in Monterrey.
I asked him to make a recommendation for my order.
This is what came out:
This is what it is:
I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish. I believe the name of the dish, translated, is Plate for the Big Bottomed.
It was a lot of food.
It was quite good.
No, I couldn’t eat all of it.
It was different than the Mexican food I typically eat in the U.S. because it was served mostly cold. It was delicious.
I wanted to buy some Monterrey and Tigres items, but couldn’t find a sporting goods store near the restaurant, so I decided to return to the hotel in hopes that the wireless was working so I could work on the blog and watch some Champions League.
My Uber driver didn’t speak English, but is a Tigres supporter, punctuated by the Tigres air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror.
We managed to communicate enough for me to understand that he saw the tweet posted Monday night of Tigres striker Andre-Pierre Gignac presenting a jersey to Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez.
We talked about Mercedes-Benz Stadium. His eyes got big when I showed him photos.
We talked about Estadio BBVA Bancomer, the stadium that is Monterrey’s home and which will host Wednesday’s game. I think he was trying to tell me that it’s hard to watch the game because the views from the stadium are so spectacular.
He was soon proven correct.
Welcome to Estadio BBVA Bancomer. It is like Red Bull Arena, but much bigger and nicer.
There are supposed to be 53,500 supporters of Rayados here Wednesday night in this beautiful stadium.
Atlanta United arrived about 30 minutes later and took the field for training. We were allowed to watch about 25 minutes before we were politely asked to leave. I did pick up one valuable piece of information.
Are you ready?
The training bibs are purple.
Do you see those orange seats?
That’s where I will be sitting on Wednesday.
Alright, I’ve got a press conference to attend and a story to write.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this.
I know I am.
There and back again.