I have been to Mexico twice before – both times with kids and the first time pregnant with Maude, which definitely changes the type of trip you experience. this time we are here to celebrate my husband’s big birthday – but really its any excuse to travel, explore and discover……its a long 10 hour flight, but it really transports you into a very different culture; from the minute you leave the airport – where shanty living is literally alongside the airport walls, you can feel the life and spirit of Mexican seeping on the streets on the journey into the centre of town. there is so much to write, so I will do a day by day post of what we got up to.
we decided to stay centrally in downtown Mexico – right next to the famous zocalo square – which pre colonial times was the ceremonial aztec city of Tenochtitlan. usually the more upmarket hotels are in the suburbs, but recently a few more boutique hotels have opened up centrally. remember Mexico City is a vast sprawling city and with the traffic, it can take a long time to get around from one area to another. Downtown Mexico is a housed in an old colonial 17C Palacio centred around a large open courtyard, filled with trees which from the first level bedrooms looks like a floor of greenery. the concrete walled bedrooms are vast and spacious and look out onto the courtyard. there are a few rooms with outside views, and these are what I would go for next. its a great location for popping in and out of the main central sights and then be able to flop on your bed in-between. in the main courtyard the restaurant Azul Historico is very good and popular with the locals too; interesting Mexican food that includes several dishes of grasshoppers, which seems to be their delicacy. after a while you realise that these specialities are commonplace on most menus. there is also a roof top bar and terrace and swimming pool to relax by. due to the the time difference of 6 hours, you inevitably wake up at dawn, which is a great time to explore the surrounding area. walk across to zocalo square, see the ruins of the aztec temples that Mexico was built around ; pop into the cathedral filled with people on morning mass – they also provided breakfast for the hungry in a courtyard – you will see that there are lots of homeless people, just as there is in London, all lining up waiting to be fed – watch street life come alive with portable food stalls, buskers turning their organs releasing the wailing sound that was once the popular sound of the city and out of town indigenous Mexicans dressing in their feathers and bells to perform their native dance. its a busy jostling city……
Mexico is a big sprawling city and traffic is bad, so you need to plan your day with sights and restaurants so that you are not going round in circles. we continued our walking up to the incredible Bellas Artes Museum, high Art Deco style with its incredible ceiling and murals by some of the great Mexican painters including Diego Rivera. we also saw a wonderful retrospective of Brassai’s street photography. Mexico apparently has the highest number of art galleries and museums in one city.
walking the streets is a great way to soak up Mexico City – we passed the beautiful old post office, again high Deco in style, beautifully preserved but only functioning for parcels in one section. one can only imagine how exciting it must have been in Mexico 100 years ago. next to the museum is the Alemeida Park – full of locals enjoying the sun and green space, children splashing in the fountains, a group of locals dancing on the bandstand. at the opposite end of the park is the mural museum of Diego Rivera – a small museum especially built to house this mural of Rivera which he had originally made for a hotel and was relocated to this spot. its stunning and includes people of all ranks and sorts, including a younger self portrait and his wife Friday.
we ate lunch at La Opera – a viennese style restaurant serving typical Mexican food. opposite is an incredible blue porcelain tiled building Sanbornes – pop in and see the 1970’s style cafe – so many great interiors. for dinner we went to Maximo bistros in Roma Norte – a more upmarket restaurant that specialises in local grown vegetables and sustainable fish – it was very nice, but definitely attracted more tourists. Roma is about 20 – 30 mins drive out from the centre, a more affluent suburb, its where people go for a quieter life and seems full of restaurants. its definitely worth visiting to see the more gentler side of Mexico City.
as we have done most of the important sightseeing trips before, we tried to see other new things instead and discover different areas. however a trip to Frida Kahlo’s blue Azul house is always a must – not just to see the beautiful house and gardens that she created, but to appreciate her exquisite taste. everything that she and Diego collected was of impeccable craftsmanship – from the bowls and pans in the kitchen to the furniture and objets around the house. sadly in the last 10 years, Frida has become somewhat of a commercial icon for women artists to the point that the saturation of souvenirs with her face emblazoned onto absolutely everything makes you not want to like her – but I still do….. her art may not be as powerful and iconic as Rivera’s but her personality, individuality and strength against all her pain only makes you admire her all the more. there are now huge queues to get into the house, so its best to book in advance, which we did, and you still have to queue for at least 20 mins. fortunately timed tickets makes it not too overcrowded – its still one of my favourite galleries in the world.
walk a few blocks down towards the main square Centenario Maguey Parque passing a couple of garden squares on the way. one was full of budding artists, the other with organ grinders, stall holders selling balloons, woven bags and rugs, flowers, sweets – absolutely everything. my favourite bit was watching the locals learning to dance, first in couples then in formation – they danced in a small space on the borders of the artists, in the bandstands and in the squares – its full of life and colour and especially as it was a Sunday, so there were particularly a lot of young families enjoying themselves.
we ate in Corazon de Maguey – just on the edge of plaza centenary – very good local food and more typical delicacies such as cactus fruit and sprouted leaves. we were actually told to take Ubers around the city, apparently the safest as they are all traceable; Ubers in london are a dreaded word, but here they are widespread, very efficient and extremely cheap. we took a taxi to the nearby museum of Diego Rivera, which was a shock/surprise to see – we didn’t know anything about this museum , but think of Aztec pyramids. it was Frida and Diego’s dream to build a museum dedicated to the origins of Mexico; it now houses Rivera’s massive collection of Aztec art, sculptures, bowls and the vast first floor studio is dedicated to the drawings for Rivera’s huge murals. definitely worth seeing.
we then returned to our hotel just in time to catch the 6pm daily ritual of taking the enormous Mexican flag down in zocalo square. a regiment of soldiers march around the square in unison and then watch them catch the flag and roll it into one long tube – I think it would have been far more exciting watching the 6am daily unrolling and erecting the flag and then seeing it blow in the sky.