A Travellerspoint blog

March 2022

"We're Going To Miss This!"

sunny 26 °C

"We're going to miss this!" We've been saying this all week, having reached that point in our travels where time is no longer suspended, but is rocketing toward the end. And now, we are here - less than 12 hours before we get up at an unholy hour (3:30 a.m.) to make it to the airport for our 7:00 am. departure home. We have our antigen tests back (negativo), and are soaking up every last Mexico City minute.

We've grown very fond of our apartment, our neighbourhood and our routines. For a brief period of time, this has felt like home - we're getting our big city fix. There is so much that we will miss about being here.

The beauty of the architecture:

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The deceptive ease of simple modern design:

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The impromptu performances as you wait for the light to change.

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The unexpected signs that make you laugh:

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The signs that remind you of your responsibility as a tourist:

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Th unintentionally hilarious signs. In the middle of a beautifully tended garden that flanks both sides of a multi-kilometre pedestrian walkway, someone chose to place this sign beside the two plants that somehow missed the watering can.

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Being surrounded by such abundance - the lush gardens, the palm trees, agave, bougainvillea, jacaranda - took the bite out of being in the middle of a huge metropolis. We really felt as though we moved from one village to another, travelling along shady paths.

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I was struck by the uniformity of this hotel - how the square windows were mirrored by the precision-clipped shrubs below.

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We were trying to figure out what it is about Mexico City that has captured us so much this time. Possibly it is because we haven't felt the need to madly sightsee every day, ticking off boxes and exhausting ourselves in the process. I can be guilty of that; creating overly-ambitious itineraries that defeat the purpose of travel.

We have seen most of the major sights in previous visits, so we spent a lot of time walking and exploring neighbourhoods and being excited about the next turn in the road. It made for an extremely relaxing and serendipitous visit but as is always the case, we are leaving a lot behind.

Getting around Mexico City is so easy. Walking is a pleasure, taxis are cheap and plentiful, the subway is fast and efficient and the city bus system is multi-tiered, but requires a better understanding of Spanish than I possess.

Luckily for us, we were right on the Metrobus line; actually right on two lines - the Metrobus travels north and south on two major streets, and has its own designated lane, so traffic is never an issue. Tickets are cheap - 6 pesos (about 40 cents) - and there is a steady stream of buses, so wait times are never more than 5 or 10 minutes.

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There are over 150 museums in Mexico City and probably at least twice as many art galleries. For some reason, we saw very few of them this time. We did have one epic day where we headed into the Centro Historico.

We began by walking through Alameda Central, the oldest public park on the outskirts of Centro. This sculpture of hands clasping a flagpole really moved me but I am confused as to its significance. It is in memory of the thousands of lives (between 5,000 and 10,000, depending upon what you read) that were lost in the 1985 earthquake and I'm curious as to what the hands mean. Hands reaching to pull people to safety? A symbol of unity in the event of future earthquakes?

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In front of Alameda Central Park is the magnificent Palacio de Bellas Artes. It is both a museum featuring murals by Diego Rivera as well as many other exhibitions, and a cultural centre that hosts music, opera, theatre and dance performances.

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As we walked from Bellas Artes toward Centro, there were a number of streets cordoned off and police cars, vans and military vehicles were out in force. We could see and hear a massive protest underway on the next street over, but common sense won out over my intense curiosity and we stayed the course. Every time we have been to Mexico, there have been massive protests over something or another and the accompanying police presence - I think it is part of the landscape.

We carried on to the main pedestrian street that runs from Bellas Artes to the zocolo. This street is a curious mix of cheap clothing stores and fabulous old buildings, as well as pocket parks and museums.

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There is a tiny park sandwiched between an ancient church and Torre Latinamericana, Mexico City's tallest building. It is currently featuring an outdoor exhibit of sculptures by Salvador Dali and Augustus Rodin. There were about 15 or so sculptures spread around this tiny park; here are two of them.
Rodin's La Eterna Primavera, 1898.

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Dali's Venus Especial, 1977

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Right across the street is the 18th-century Baroque palace, The Casa de los Azulejos ( The House of Tiles).

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Just down the street, we popped into the Palacio de la Cultural Citibanamex.

There were three exhibits - a display of work by sculptor Yvonne Domenge Gaudry.

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An exhibit about the 1910 Mexican Revolution; this Tree of Life portraying the major players.

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An exhibit on Nacimiento - scenes of the Nativity from Latin-American artists. This one by Manuel Martinez, Peru, 2009

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The main attractions around the Zocolo - the Cathedral and the National Palace - were closed due to Covid. We could have wandered around the Zocolo, but since it was stinking hot, we decided to head to one of our favourite spots for lunch and a view - El Meyor.

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The restaurant is on the roof of a terrific bookstore, Porrua. If you look closely at the wall art in the entrance, you will see the design is made entirely of strategic book placement.

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The Postal Palace is an architectural jewel - all marble and brass and polished wood, with venetian and art nouveau design elements. This part serves as a museum; there is actually a post office still in operation on the other side of the building.

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We spent another day checking out Polanco, a swank neighbourhood with stunning homes and ultra high-end shopping; billed as Mexico City's
"Rodeo Drive."
We have seen some exceptional street fashion but there is something so je-ne-sais-quoi about the sartorial splendour of this gentleman. I have to assume his closet is filled with many other equally fabulous ensembles and I also have to assume he has plenty of occasions to wear them.

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Converse sneakers have found a pretty fancy spot - no confusing this with a suburban Foot Locker.

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One street after another, filled with homes that look like this - expensive, discreet, gated.

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It is in the Polanco neighbourhood that the incomparable Soumaya museum is found. This stunning structure is named after Carlos Slim's late wife, and houses his personal art collection. We visited it a few years ago, but were once again impressed with its beauty.

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Right across the street is the Jumex Museum, which showcases contemporary art. Please excuse the quality of this photo - I don't know what my camera caught to create this purple arc, but it does match the gorgeous lavender jacaranda. It is a beautiful building, but only two floors were open and both of them only partially. The exhibits were lost on both of us - if someone can explain the vision behind draping two sheets to billow along the floor with pillows anchoring them, I'm all ears. There was also a sheet of paper with a single line drawn horizontally about one-third of the way down the page. I always feel like a philistine when I complain about the "talent" behind exhibits like this, but sheesh...I sometimes wonder if we are being played and there is a hidden camera, capturing our expressions as we try to make sense of it all.

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We were far more entertained watching this spectacle: window washers swinging in the air, suspended on harnesses.

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And that is a fitting end to our trip - an image of the precarious beauty of Mexico City. We even managed to experience an earthquake while we were here. Not really - the quake was 230 miles away in Veracruz and we felt nothing, but it was strong enough to sound the alarms here. Yesterday morning, we heard sirens and a loudspeaker that kept repeating, " Alerte Sismo. Alerte Sismo"

We looked out our windows to see people gathering on the street below and within minutes our host contacted us to let us know everything was alright. Apparently these Alerts are common - they give residents one minute to prepare before a tremor may occur.

Thank you to Mexico and to the many wonderful Mexicans we met. Thank you for distracting us from ugly winter weather, from Covid numbers, from political mayhem, from the trucker protest and now from Russia's attack on the Ukraine. We appreciated the break and are ready to come home.

Posted by millerburr 22:22 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico_city salvador_dali zocolo augustu_rodin museo_jumex museo_soumaya polanco palacio_post_office citibanamex porrua palacio_de_bellas_artes Comments (6)

The Yin and Yang of Mexico City

sunny 28 °C

The more we travel around Mexico City, the more we realize it would take years to understand it. How to describe a city that changes from one block to the next and offers glimpses into lives of both tremendous wealth and and tremendous struggle - all within a few kilometres of one another? We haven't seen the wealthiest neighbourhoods, nor have we seen the poorest. We are seeing only what the tourists see and within those narrow boundaries we are challenged, stimulated, horrified, impressed and delighted every minute of the day. So many questions, so few answers.

A feast for the eyes, a democratic gift to all citizens - these pedestrian walkways that run between four lanes of traffic are literally life-saving. Why have more cities not adopted this practice of making urban life more livable?

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Our neighbourhood is filled with dramatic entryways. I love this gorgeous doorway, but how in the world does it accommodate a new sofa or fridge?

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Not every building in our area is Art Nouveau or Art Deco. There are a good number of more modern apartment buildings - most of them with balconies crammed with plants. We were told that most newer buildings were built to replace the original buildings that had been destroyed in the catastrophic 1985 earthquake.

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We walked past this site - cordoned off and ready to demolish. Amazing that it has stood empty for so long, but the damage was so widespread that it has taken this many years to recover, and they're not done yet.

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Like all great cities, Mexico City is all about the neighbourhoods. Each one is unique and offers a distinctive architecture, history and even demographics. One of the oldest, San Angel was once a small town. In 1934, it was declared a Pueblo Tipico Pintoresco ( Picturesque Typical Town), which indeed it is, and has since been swallowed up by urban sprawl. Charming homes, cobblestoned streets, a monastery and the Saturday artisan market are among the draws. As our cab driver told us, " Muy bonita. Muy cara." Very beautiful. Very expensive.

This home had an armed security guard out front and a gardener sweeping up errant leaves off the sidewalk. The guard told us that many people stop to take photos (I asked permission) of the compelling artwork at the entrance. This was the only clue as to the grandeur that lay behind those doors.

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Many homes in San Angel are like that - concrete fortresses that present a blank facade to the outside world, and to potential intruders.

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This one offered more of a glimpse, but was equally well-protected.

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Inviting tree-lined streets and laneways.

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The El Carmen Monastery is right in the centre of town, set in magnificent gardens. There was a service on while we were there, but like the rest of San Angel, there were guards to discourage us from peeking in. Stephen popped in front of this monster agave to give a sense of scale.

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The long-standing Saturday Market has its home in this handsome building, which houses some truly high-end works by local artists - fine pottery, jewelry, woodwork, textiles and custom design clothing and footwear.

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Outside, dozens of artists and craftspeople display their wares in the Plaza de San Jacinto and on the adjoining sidewalks.

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Since this is primarily an artist market, there was not a lot of fresh food, other than some eye-wateringly-priced macarons. I loved the fact that this lady had piggy-backed onto the market, and set up her wares. She was quite happy to pose for a photo - who could resist those artichokes?

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And...interestingly, San Angel was also the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. It's complicated - the famous Casa Azul which belonged to Frida, and was shared by Diego, is in Coyoacan, and that is the house that attracts the crowds.

The Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo served as house and studio to both artists, although it was primarily Rivera's home. This arrangement speaks to the tempestuous relationship and perhaps to their artistic temperaments as well.

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And far from the genteel beauty of San Angel, we take you to Juarez. It is currently Mexico City's financial centre, but was once a wealthy enclave; its streets filled with magnificent mansions. In recent years, since the 1985 earthquake, those mansions have been abandoned, severely deteriorated and occupied by squatters. Juarez is also home to Zone Rosa (Pink Zone), which has a large gay population.

The area can best be described as up-and-coming; vibrant, gritty and very much a slice of urban life.

Typical of this area - one intact and well-maintained building is situated right next to one that could use a little love.

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The main pedestrian-only street is loud, brash and home to fast food chains, cheap clothing outlets and adult-only shops.

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Street art tells provocative stories:

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Tells scary stories:

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Celebrates Mexico's favourite sport:

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Celebrates Mexico's international icon:

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Poverty is more visible here. There is a different tension in the streets - a little more jangly in some areas. Whether it is warranted or not, I was more conscious of my surroundings, more conscious of my belongings. It was never frightening, just less relaxing.

A large encampment lies in the shadow of this church. It runs for a couple of blocks and it appears to house several families.

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And yet, there is beauty. Several artists have set up shop in Juarez, including this beautiful store selling handcrafted garments. The mural on the wall speaks to the time-honoured Mexican tradition of textile art.

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I think this fabulous old building is an embassy, but I couldn't find a sign (that I could understand).

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Also fabulous, but new. This style of architecture is quite common in Mexico City - big gravity-defying blocks suspended high in the air.

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Street-corner, plastic-stool dining. Most of them are busy, with line-ups - those are the ones with tender foreign tummies to check out.

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And...Mexico's pride, its Central Park, its Sunday family madness - Chapultepec Park. This is the second largest park in Latin America - a massive green space just crammed with every imaginable attraction. We deliberately went on a Sunday, which is like a carnival. Families descend upon the park in great numbers and walk, bike, roller-blade, go for paddle boat rides, buy balloons and trinkets and chow down on corn, candy, tacos, juices, more candy. Watching Mexican families in action is at least as much fun as anything else the park has to offer.

We entered at the entrance with the magnificent Ninos Heroes Monument - dedicated to six child cadets who died defending Mexico in the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847.

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Within the park there are several very good museums - the Tamayo Contemporary Art Museum and the world-renowned National Museum of Anthropology. We didn't go to either museum this year as we have been twice before.

Entrance to the National Museum of Anthropology

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We did go to the Museum of Modern Art, which had three expositions. The first one, called "Discontinuous Times" dealt with the disruption of the pandemic, and the effects on mental health.

Domingo, by Javier Anzures

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Fragmented Landscapes showed ways to express alternative renditions of familiar images.

Boy, by Reynaldo Velazquez Zebadua

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The third exposition dealt with feminism, and some groundbreaking images from the Movimento Nacional de Mujeres in macho '60s Mexico.

This arresting image by Hermina Dosel

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The Botanical Gardens are a delight, and according to these folks at the gate - they are under threat of being torn up and being developed - a museum, other buildings - it wasn't clear. For the zero impact it will likely have, I signed a petition and went in through the gates to appreciate something that might not be here next time we visit.

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The gardens have several species of mature trees and shrubs, as well as a huge greenhouse.

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There are also ponds which are home to several fish and at least one handsome tortuga.

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We knew there was a Sunday bike ride, in which 20 miles of major roads are blocked to vehicles, which brings out the cyclists in droves. We sadly forgot about this bike ride, until we got to the park - it would have been fun to join in.

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And you thought I would never stop talking! We have so little time left and still so much to do. That's it for now - we will see you again in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 03:22 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico_city art_nouveau chapultepec_park art_deco colonia_juarez san_angel museum_of_modern_art Comments (8)

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