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Day Effay! (as Mexico City is also known - D.F.)

overcast 16 °C

Every guide book you read actively discourages you from driving in Mexico City. In fact, Lonely Planet describes it thus: "Even more than elsewhere in the country, traffic rules are seen as suggested behaviour. Red lights may be run at will, no-turn signs are ignored and signals are seldom used. On occasion you may be hit with a questionable traffic fine." As if these encouraging words were not enough, the knowledge that street names change without warning and we have a history of getting lost made for an anxious few days prior to us taking on Mexico City. I was not just anxious, I was dreading the drive. Stephen pretended to be looking forward to it (he is a veteran of driving in Italy), but I think he was fibbing. I didn't take any photos of our drive in, but we ran into traffic like this:

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We ran into this traffic several times, because at one point, we actually made the same wrong turn twice. We had a discussion about how that might have happened. We stopped about six times to ask for directions, with differing opinions. And then... our street magically appeared - we turned, drove for 15 minutes, with the map behaving the way it should and before we knew it, we were parked and in our hotel.

Our hotel Real Salamanca has small suites - each with a kitchen, living area, bathroom and bedroom. Our charming host upgraded us to a larger unit, and for at least the next week (we may stay a few days longer), we are stretched out and comfy. We're right in the Roma-Condesa area, which is leafy, residential, full of shops and restaurants, museums, art galleries and lots and lots of dogs. We love it. As with a number of other places we have stayed, we almost have the place to ourselves - it seems as though there may be just two or three other suites rented.

Perhaps the post-apocalyptic appearance of the interior courtyard has something to do with it. Our unit is just behind Stephen, with the white windows and the green bay window sitting area.

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Yesterday, after we arrived and got over our giddiness at being alive, we headed out to check out our new neighbourhood. We were in Mexico City five years ago, and loved it then, but we stayed in a cheap hotel right in the centro and we got what we paid for - nonstop noisy street life. This time around, it feels like we're in a little village; with its own perspectives, eccentricities, and unique architecture.

It appeared to us that the Sister was asking the shoeshine man for directions. Perhaps she felt some divine intervention was necessary.

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Mexico City is a sophisticated place, with great affluence and fashionable inhabitants. For the most part, well-to-do chilangos are as pleasant as the next person, but yesterday we got a chilly once-over from a high-heeled, well-coiffed woman who clearly found us wanting.
Is snobbery a desired ideal?

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A rhino following a cow up a building, protected by razor wire.

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The car shell is real, the driver is a cardboard dummy, and there is a wind-up key on the side. We presume this is a permanent exhibit.

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Loved the symmetry of this exterior staircase.

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There is so much to see and do in Mexico City that one week is not nearly enough. We may tag on a few more days to try and make a bit of a dent in the hundreds of museums, art galleries, current showings, music, parks, restaurants, architecture, shops, and people-watching that would take a lifetime to cover if we tried to see everything. One big attraction this Friday is Papa - Papa Francisco, to be exact. His Holiness is here for two days, and the city is pulling out all the stops to welcome him. Mexico still has phone booths everywhere, and they are covered with banners like this one:

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The zocalo is where it is all happening. We walked past the stage and the seating, and tried to imagine this massive square filled with hundreds of thousands of people. Stephen wants to be there to witness it, (he is hoping to see people fainting from excitement), but I think it will be pandemonium.

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Not everyone is looking forward to the Pope's arrival. This "nun" staged a one-woman protest against his visit; stating among other things
that he and his church harbours pedophiles.

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Protests are a way of life in most areas of Mexico, it seems. They have a lot to be angry over, but I always wonder how any of it changes anything. I'm not in a position to know or guess, but I think most protests are either ignored or met with force of some kind - it wouldn't seem that they effect real change. Ongoing outrage over the missing and murdered 43 students (everywhere), the teachers' strike (Oaxaca), and today this march of hundreds of protesters on one of the main streets leading to the Palace. We have no idea what the protest was about, but it had menacing undertones to it. Many of the protesters were masked and carrying sticks. It seemed to have something to do with dissatisfaction over the state governor.

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The police had no intention of allowing them through. By the time we left, there were dozens more reinforcements and another three police buses blocking access. No idea how it ended, but I'm hoping it was peaceful.

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Just past the protest stand-off is the extraordinary Palacio de Bellas Artes, home to murals by Diego Rivera and Ruffino Tamayo, among other artists. The theatre shows a number of events, of note the world-famous Ballet Folklorico. The exterior of the building is a combination of art-nouveau and neo-classical design, surrounded by beautiful gardens and sculptures.

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The interior is art-deco. Everything gleams - you want to slide down the brass banisters and you could eat off the marble floors.

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A little further along, and we came upon this vertiginous sight - window washers hanging by a thread.

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We kept walking down Paseo de Reforma, though various neighbourhoods and finally ending up at the edge of the Centro Historico. It is like falling though the third ring of hell. Gone is the sedate stroll. Hustlers come at you from all sides, thrusting discount coupons, offering tours, calling out, coming at you - I could feel my heart start to pound.

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And then... we were attempting to cross a street, and a motorcycle came flying through the intersection, coming straight at Stephen. I screamed, and apparently a few birds fell from the sky. The bike went one way, Steve went the other, and all was well, but a good reminder that the onus to stay alive on the roads, streets and sidewalks of Mexico is on us.

Once we had mentally switched gears, we were able to notice the beauty of the area. It is one of the oldest parts of the city, and we were interested to see that this new construction was being built to preserve the original facade.

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We had lunch at El Mayor - a wonderful rooftop restaurant with great food and even better views.

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We visited our first museum - the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso to see the exhibit of Javier Marin's sculptures, called Corpus. The oversized pieces are of resin, bronze and wood and they have such a sense of unrest and unease to them.

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The final installation was an interactive site where you could stand on the feet on the floor and sensors on your movements would activate similar movements with the figure on the screen. After watching a little boy have fun with it, I decided to try.

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And so, our introduction to this great city has begun. Talk to you again in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 19:09 Archived in Mexico

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Comments

Amazing pictures, the museums look fabulous. Thanks for sharing

by Ann

Goodness Gin. I had no idea Mexico City was so beautiful. Love the architecture so thanks for sending those pics to us.

by Virginia

Whew! This stop on your journey has everything...danger, excitement, culture and Papa!

Cheers,
Donna

by Donna Deacon

Like WOW! Good on you for venturing into MC - DF. Closest I ever got to this vibrancy was the airport. Talk about chaos! Love the city and the art installations! Carol

by Carol Martin

This first post from Mexico City has only whet our appetite for more (as is always the case with your writing!) How exciting to be in the City the same time as the Pope! The shots of the museums are incredible - thanks so much for sharing with your armchair travellers!

by Heather

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