Saturday, 5th July
We arrived in Mexico City after a short flight from Miami (3 hours) and in the mood for getting to know a new country. We passed through immigration and customs without any dramas. At customs you press a button which either flashes up a green or red light. I can only assume that this is a random search thing but we weren’t told the reason. Anyway, we both got green and walked through to arrivals. A can ride later and we were at our hostel for the next three nights, the ‘Mexico City Hostel Suites’. The weather is a pleasant change, being a mild 20 degrees or so and a little rain.
We are staying in the Centro Historico, a central neighborhood in the city focused on Zócalo or main plaza. Surrounding the Zócalo are the Mexico City Cathedral, The National Palace, the Templo Mayor (an Aztec temple demolished in the 16th century but rediscovered) and the Nacional Monte de Piedad building (the national pawn shop, believe it or not, founded in 1775 and one of the largest second-hand shops in the world). So you could say we are close to the action here. There are police everywhere here, some directing traffic, some patrolling in cars or on bikes with lights going and a lot just standing around with their riot gear handy, most of this lot seem to eating snacks. I expect the reason being it’s a mix of being the main tourist area, seat of the President and the history of violence in the country’s past that has led to such a strong police presence. It does make you feel safe though.
After settling in we got a recommendation for dinner and headed out to the aptly named ‘Cafe El Popular’. It is indeed popular and there was a queue but we opted for a bar setting and ate straight away once we had figured out the system. We ordered some random dishes not understanding the detail of the menu but what we got was tasty with the exception of some cactus – slimy and an oddly citrus taste. Kirsty had a steak with tortillas and garnishes and I had some enchiladas with a mole (a chocolate based sauce, not a furry creature). With full stomachs we headed back to our hostel for an early night.
Sunday, 6th July
We woke up to banging and shouting with some school parties leaving the hostel that morning. I got up at around 7am not able to sleep and sat in the kitchen drinking coffee and juice, doing some research on the internet for what we should do whilst in Mexico City. Kirsty got up at 9am and we had a complimentary breakfast laid on by the hostel; some kind of scrambled egg like soy thing. Not sure quite what it was but it was tasty. We then grabbed our bag and headed out for some sight-seeing.
We had a plan to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum today in another area of town so that meant us getting to grips with the public transport system. The subway/metro is much like any other city system and easy to navigate once you know where you are going. It’s also only 5 pesos (12 to $1USD) so very cheap also. We got to the museum without any fuss and had a walk through some streets along the way. I spotted some street art and stopped to take some pictures. Low and behold one of the pieces was by Mike Maka, aka Makatron, a guy I played 5-a-side with in Melbourne!
The Frida Kahlo Museum is excellent and housed in the home she shared with Diego Rivera, La Casa Azul (the blue house). In the house there are on display some works of her art (paintings, sculpture, toys) and some of Diego Rivera’s paintings. Along with the art is a collection of their personal belongings and items of everyday use. It is a beautiful home set around an inside courtyard with lots light flooding into the rooms. You get to walk through her art studio, kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms, one of which played host to Leon Trotsky at one stage. Halfway through our visit we stopped at the cafe for a cuppa and I tried out some Spanish on the ordering. I got there in the end but clearly have some work to do! There is another temporary exhibit on display, showcasing Frida Kahlo’s collection of clothes and items which helped her with her disabilities. Overall a fascinating museum.
With the entrance fee to the Frida Kahlo Museum you also get entry to the Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli. To get there we hopped aboard a ‘Microbus’ which is a small minibus that goes along a specific route and stops wherever you want. This presents the obvious problem of not knowing where to get off exactly. We kept our eyes peeled though and spotted the street we wanted, Calle Museo, and pressed the buzzer thereby altering our driver to our intention to get off. The museum was built by Diego Rivera, who, motivated by his own interest in Mexican culture, collected near 60,000 pre-Hispanic pieces during his life and decided to build somewhere to showcase them. The result is a strange building made of volcanic stone and resembling some kind of mountain top Aztec temple. The collection is interesting and there is also on display some studies for some of Rivera’s murals. At one point a Frida Kahlo look-a-like burst out into song. They do this thing here of charging you extra to take photos in some museums, I kept hold of my pesos so here are some pictures I did not take, from the internet, to give you a taste of this museum.
After a stroll around this museum we were ready for a rest at our hostel after the rude awakening this morning so after getting some directions in Spanish we set off not quite sure where to go. As luck would have it though we spied a Microbus going down the road with a Metro station marked as it’s destination so we waited for the next one and jumped aboard. We ended up back at the Metro station we had come to prior to the Frida Kahlo Museum so we knew how to get back to our hostel easily enough. There was a Sunday market next to the Cathedral, around the corner of our hostel which we walked through on the way back. As expected a load of ‘artefacts’ for sale and people dressed up in ‘traditional’ dress. We are staying right in the thick of the action. Back at the hostel we planned out our next few days and booked ourselves a hostel in Oaxaca and figured out how to get there (bus).
For dinner we had a treat and ventured out to a moderately fancy restaurant, ‘Cafe De Tacuba’. It had been there since 1912 and is apparently something of an institution in these parts. The interior is elaborately decorated with brightly coloured tiles on the walls, murals painted onto the ceiling and archways and portraits hanging on the walls. We were led to our table and not long after the Mariachi-type band that was roaming the floor walked over our way and belted out some tunes. They were actually very good, I don’t normally like that sort of thing whilst eating too much but they really did add to the atmosphere. The food was good too, we shared some taquitos (deep-fired small rolled tortillas filled with meat and cheese) and Kirsty had a chicken broth whilst I had some tacos filled with ham and potato, topped with cheese. Sounds basic and it was but so good, there’s something to be said for simple food combinations and after the States which tend to overdo things it was a nice change. For afters we had a couple of hot chocolates, Kirsty’s was basically melted chocolate and mine a milky hot chocolate with hint of cinnamon. A great way to round off our first proper day in Central America.
Monday, 7th July
It seems as though this hostel acts like a speaker, enhancing every sound made in the common area. Once again we were woken up early although not quite as bad as the travelling band of school children the day before. We had our breakfast (complimentary soy type scrambled egg thing again) and headed out for a walking tour I had got off the internet. This took in some sights of the Centro Historico in which we are staying. First stop was the Alameda Park, a park first established in the 1500’s and on the site of an Aztex marketplace (not any more of course). Right next door is the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the main theatre of the city and an interesting building in that the outside is early 20th century art nouveau style and the inside 1930’s art deco (I got that from the tour guide). Inside there are art performances including ballet and also art exhibitions. Also on display are some murals including some by Diego Rivera.
We then walked to the main square, Zocalo, and took a stroll around checking out the Cathedral and National Palace. The Palace unfortunately wasn’t open to visitors on Monday so we will go back tomorrow. Inside are some more murals by Diego Rivera. We then walked through a bustling street full of street vendors and came across the Templo Mayor, one of the main temples of the Aztecs in their capital city of Tenochtitlan before Hernan Cortes arrived conquering the Aztecs. You can see the ruins as they have been excavated, being discovered in the late 1970s. We then retired back to our hostel for a rest before heading out to our favourite ‘Cafe El Popular’ for a light lunch of soup and another stroll through the Centro Historico, looking up and buildings as we walked. This is a nice area to walk around, classic architecture, markets, cobbled streets and street vendors all make for quite an atmosphere. In the afternoon I hunted out a supermarket to get some supplies for our bus ride tomorrow.
For dinner we went out for tacos, at a local place called ‘El Huequito’, now part of a chain. It’s a garish looking ‘fast food’ restaurant but the tacos are excellent. We opted for the house specialities of Taco El Pastor, tacos filled with marinated meat cut from a kebab-like spit, tacos ingles (worcestershire sauce marinated chopped steak) and marinated roasted chicken tacos. All very tasty and certainly fast, we were in and out of there within the hour. We had four each and that filled us up although they were so good we could’ve had more. We then walked back to our hostel in the darkening light with the buildings being lit up on our way. We are off to Oaxaca tomorrow by bus but will try to sneak in a visit to the National Palace beforehand.
We have enjoyed our couple of days in Mexico City and feel it’s enough time to see a few sights, eat some good food and get an introduction to Central America. We have a few weeks in Mexico and a few months in Central America so are conscious not to run around too much and see everything getting worn out in the process, knowing that there will always be a temple or museum to see and food food to try.