April 11, 2016: Today we are writing about Mexico City, while sitting in Sinaloa*.
In mid-March, we decided to take a trip to Texas. Flying from Chiapas to Texas requires a connection in Mexico City, so we made use of that stop on the way back, spending a few days exploring the city.
We got some nice views of an active volcano on the flight from Chiapas to Mexico City. Popocatépetl is about 17,800 feet high, making it the second highest peak in Mexico. Apparently it spewed ash more than a mile into the sky at the end of March.
We spent a week in Texas and caught up on some business and visits with Laura’s mom and some Texas friends. Arriving in Mexico City on March 22nd, we used Uber to get from the airport to our hotel. For the five of you reading who aren’t familiar with Uber, it’s a car service that lets you hail a private driver to your location using an app on a smartphone. It’s really convenient and typically cheaper than taking a cab in the U.S. In Mexico City it was also quite cheap (~$6 from the airport to the city center) and arguably is safer than hailing a cab from the street. We felt very in the know. Our driver even offered us water, which was quite welcomed after the flight.
Mexico’s capital city is the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere with about 22 million people. Knowing the size and density of the city, we found it surprisingly manageable and even quiet in some places.
We stayed in a neighborhood called Roma, which is about 2.5 miles southeast of the city’s Zócalo. It, along with its neighboring hood La Condesa, has gained a reputation as the hip and boho place to be in the city. The buildings in Roma were largely constructed at the beginning of 20th century and feature tree lined streets and lots of Paris-influenced architecture.
There’s a lot going on in this area, like trendy restaurants and shops.
But the area doesn’t feel touristy. It reminded us of certain neighborhoods in Manhattan, like the Village or Hell’s Kitchen. We didn’t find people on the street sticking menus in our faces. We felt welcome everywhere we went, but there was no pressure.
There are lots of people with dogs in this area of the city, a fact reflected by this jaunty fellow warning vehicles of pedestrian crosswalks.
After settling into our modest but comfortable Hotel Milan (about $50/night including a full breakfast in an excellent location) we went out to explore. In a recent article we found touting the 10 best beer bars in the city, 3 of them were within about 1/2 mile of the hotel. That warranted investigation!
On Wednesday, we walked to the Bosque de Chapultepec, a very large urban park that has a zoo and several museums. On the way we walked by the El Ángel (the Angel of Independence monument) and generally took in the sights along Reforma, one of the main streets in the city.
These flowering trees were visible everywhere we went in the city, littering the sidewalks with purple blooms.
We visited two museums in the park – the first was the Museo de Arte Moderno. There were three exhibits on display, each better (or so we thought) than the last. The last one conjured images of at least bad dreams if not outright hell.
The other museum is the biggie – the Museo Nacional de Antropología. Here there are treasures from archaeological sites and indigenous groups from all over the country (including finally the actual jade mask from Palenque). This museum is much too big to cover thoroughly in one visit. We visited the museum in the 90s and covered some different ground this time. It’s both incredible and overwhelming.
This park is also a popular public gathering space with all of the colorful snacking opportunities you’d expect.
On our last full day in the city we explored the historic center, walking to the Zócalo. We expected to visit the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace, both located on this central plaza of the city. What we did NOT expect to find in the Zócalo was a Major League Baseball field.
We learned that the Astros and Padres were playing a couple of exhibition games in Mexico City over Easter weekend and this space was set up for exhibition events. It was rather surreal.
This area of Mexico City was the center of Aztec (or Mextiza) power. So of course the Spaniards constructed their cathedral and governments buildings on the same spot (after tearing down the Aztec temples). Just a few steps away is the archaeological site of Teotihuacan where some of the Aztec site has been excavated.
The Cathedral is the largest in the Americas and was perpetually under construction during the colonial period (about 1573-1813). It’s a very impressive display of catholicism. The bell tower has 25 very loud bells.
There are 2 giant organs dating to the 1700s and the rear altar is incredibly complex.
The National Palace houses Mexico’s executive branch.
It has a nice botanical garden featuring very large succulents.
But it is best known to tourists for its murals by Diego Rivera that outline the history of Mexico. This website gives a detailed explanation of these very dense murals.
Those are the highlights from our 3 days in this magnificent city. As we walked around, Michael kept saying, “I could live here.” We will definitely go back, at least.
But for now, on to other adventures in Southern Mexico.
*Sinaloa the room, that is. We are in a hotel in Tuxtla Gutierrez that names rooms after Mexican states, rather than giving them numbers. Why are we in a hotel room only 37 miles from San Cristóbal? That’s a good question. . .