“BUY something you don’t need?” asked the ageing Mexican as we walked past his magnificently chintzy tourist shop.
As far as sales pitches go, this one was pretty lame.
But you had to appreciate the apparent brilliance in its sheer honesty.
Had we a penchant for buying over-priced rubbish then we might have taken him up on his offer.
But we decided to venture on exploring Tijuana’s infamous ‘Downtown’ area.
I know I know, I can hear you asking… ‘it’s taken you six MONTHS to go downtown?!’
Personally I’d much rather settle into an area and then do the ‘norm’ and take in the tourist traps.
Avenida Revolucion (Revolution Avenue) is THE tourist heart of TJ. It’s the main strip which plays host to most of the city’s bars and tourist shops and stalls.
At one end is the famous Tijuana arch, and at the other is the huge Mexican flag. Both act as symbols of pride.
Standing tall: Tijuana's famous arch
Now THAT is a flag
Each shop on Avenida Revolucion pretty much sells the same chintzy assortment of key rings, guitars, sombreros, chess boards, 'I LOVE Tijuana' stickers, wrestling masks (Mexicans LOVE wrestling), and spectacularly bright ornaments which would immediately cheapen any mantelpiece.
I’m led to believe its TJ's notorious drug cartels which have given the city, and indeed, Avenida Revolucion its bad name in recent years.
Sadly even at night the once bustling and chaotic downtown area is now a shadow of its former self.
Promotional teams, bar and restaurant owners and even waiters, almost go as far as to sell their souls to entice you into visit their establishments.
Some sales pitches are obviously better than others.
It seems that even the sale of a couple of cold beers will allow these establishments to open the next weekend.
When I ask whether it was the global downturn in the economy that put paid to the once booming trade, Jacks tells me that it was actually largely the fault of the US media which shot an arrow through its heart.
As I’ve mentioned before, you only have to watch a US comedy starring Will Ferrell and you’ll hear reference to the slurs against ‘Tijuana’.
It has probably the worst name in Hollywood.
And while I admittedly wasn’t around here a few years ago to witness the ‘bad times’, it’s hard to imagine a place so bad that it deserves such a stigma which still sits heavily on its shoulders.
Even Jacky openly admitted after our night-time visit that “it’s not as bad” as she imagined.
Sure it’s seedy, and it feels dangerous and edgy.
But we weren't offered any form of drug, not least an Aspirin, as we wondered around.
The air reeks of stale cigar smoke, cheap perfume and tacos, and your ears are filled with the sound of The Doors, banda music and some sort of techno – but isn’t that its appeal? It is what it is.
A few titty bars, drinking holes, bric-a-brac tourist shops, and a zebra-donkey or two to have your photograph taken with?
I mean, that’s Blackpool right?!
Nowhere here does a sign say ‘welcome to Tijuana, please wipe your feet’.
Besides in life you have to taste the sour to appreciate the sweet.
And I actually like it.
TJ - proud to be Mexican
In between all that there is also evidence of an upcoming art revolution in the street. A few new trendy and retro art gallery/shops have opened and there are cool Banksy-style murals and designs on shutter doors and shops fronts.
The famous 'zebra-donkey'
Oh, useless fact for the day?
The concept for the traditional ‘Caesar salad’ was created in Tijuana.
It turns out that an Italian restauranteur called Caesar Cardini owned a restaurant in TJ and developed the salad at that establishment.
That was back in the 1920s.
Nowadays The Hotel Caesar and the associated restaurant on Avenida Revolucion proudly continues the association.
Further food for thought eh?
Talking of which it didn’t half feel strange tucking into an ice cream last weekend in 25 degree heat – especially because everyone back home in the UK has been experiencing hell on earth with regards to the weather.
I’ve told Jacky that on second thoughts she’d best pack the snorkel and mask and a few extra woolly jumpers.
My friend and I had hoped that we would just "stumble across" Greta Garbo's grave at Stockholm's Skogskyrkogarden.
Given the status of the Swedish-born Hollywood star we assumed her grave would be easy to spot, or at the very least there would be a signpost every three metres pointing us in the right direction.
But it wasn't long after we arrived at Skogskyrkogarden that we realised our assumptions were wrong.
This way to a the forest / cemetery maze where we would spend the afternoon
Calling Skogskyrkogarden a cemetery is a little like calling Buckingham Palace a "dwelling". It's huge. So huge it has lots of subsections of forested graves worthy of being cemeteries in their own right. So huge it had a shuttle bus with bus stops.
So how to find Greta?
While signage was limited, we found cemetery sections which matched the right period for when Greta died.
The expansive entrance to Skogskyrkogarden
However, after a good 20 minutes of doing random sweeps along rows of graves we realised we were trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Somewhere in among the forest and cemetery was Greta
We thought we could possibly die there ourselves just trying to find the grave. However, given it was a sunny autumn afternoon, and the calm and peaceful woodland setting, that might not be a bad thing.
A keen movie buff, my friend was determined to find Greta's grave. Given the amount of time and energy we had devoted to the mission so far, I was also keen to track her down.
Many graves and many paths led to many dead ends
In life Garbo was famous for her elusive mystique and need for solitude. It seems she had continued this trait after her death.
So my friend risked a hefty mobile phone bill when he got home by using the internet on his Australian iPhone to see if we could find any more details on where Greta could be hiding.
The best we could find was a picture of her grave, but that was enough to give us renewed hope and enthusiasm for our mission. We could tell the headstone looked relatively new and was red, which we hoped would stand her out from the crowd. There were also some vague instructions about being in a particular section on the left of a path.
Lost in Skogskyrkogarden
The next hour passed slowly.
My friend and I split up to "halve the work" as we scoured the rows of headstones. We then lost each other and had to text each other to find each other again. The search resumed. We then started forgetting where we had looked and so retraced our steps. We pounced hopefully on any grave with a red headstone (of which there were more than you would think).
When all seemed lost and we were about to give up, my friend wandered up some steps on a nearby mound (to the right of the path, not left as the internet had advised) and sure enough there she was.
Greta's grave was the only one on this raised area, which was surrounded by flower beds. In hindsight it seems obvious that she would be here - separate, but still connected to the other graves and with areas for people to sit and contemplate.
It is not a flashy grave and the absence of any other inscription, such as the years she lived between 1905 and 1990, seem to imply that Greta Garbo was simply a Hollywood creation played by the real woman Greta Lovisa Gustafsson.
It's a peaceful and beautiful setting with an elegant but simple headstone. Perhaps a fitting location and grave for someone who is forever linked to the line "I want to be alone".
Greta's grave, and the Skogskyrkogarden itself, is a short distance from the heart of Stockholm. If you go looking for it you're probably better off finding someone else other than us to guide you!