Mechanics of the heart in Mexico City

Published: July 15th 2016
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Today we were continuing to explore the wonders of Mexico City.

We slept in for the second morning running, waking around 7am. We headed out at 9am, dropped our laundry off and walked to the Balderas metro station, which was reasonably close to our hotel. We bought our tickets, headed underground with thousands of commuters and jammed ourselves into a train to Chapultepec metro station. It was packed – people put their hands into my back and pushed me into the train. I was so compressed between everyone around me that I simply couldn’t move. I was amazed how courteous everyone was – the rim of my cap kept poking a guy in the head in front of me, and he just turned (as much as he could), smiled and said something in Spanish that I translated as “It’s OK, don’t worry about it” (or at least that’s what I thought he was saying). He may have said “Stupid bloody Australian tourist”, but I doubt it.

We arrived at Chapultepec metro station, made our way above ground and headed for the Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico City’s largest park. Home to lakes, zoos and museums, there were three key destinations we were aiming to experience in the park – the Chapultepec Castle, the Aztec sun stone in the National Museum of Anthropology and Frida Kahlo’s Las dos Fridas in the Museum of Modern Art.

After leaving my bag in a locker at the bottom of Chapultepec Hill, we slowly climbed the beautifully green and serene walkway to Chapultepec Castle (Castillo de Chapultepec), occasionally making way for joggers who were enjoying the park’s ambiance and lack of traffic. I marvelled at their capacity to run uphill in the morning heat, especially an old guy wearing inappropriate shorts who zig zagged his way past us. The views of the city from the top of Chapultepec Hill were breathtaking, and the castle itself was a stark reminder of Mexico’s bygone aristocracy. A class of primary school students arrived at the same time, and they sped through the castle at a rate of knots. We gave them heaps of space, and I couldn’t help remembering the excitement I used to feel on school trips when I was their age.

The castle houses the National History Museum, and the endless paintings of Spanish governors and administrators created a very heady atmosphere. I was ready for the revolution, and we’d only been in the castle for half an hour! There were amazing murals on the ceilings, where the uprising leading to the Mexican Revolution had been captured so potently.

We wandered in the castle gardens for a while before making our way back down the hill. We picked up my bag and lost ourselves in the enormity of the Bosque de Chapultepec, uncertain which path to take and what to visit. The more we rambled, the more we wilted under the midday sun. Needing to refresh and refocus, we found ourselves (fortuitously) outside Librería Porrúa, an open air bookshop and cafe near the Paseo de la Reforma. With a turkey panini and mango smoothie to recuperate, we sat back and relaxed in the tranquil surrounds of this great little place.

Feeling suitably refreshed, we crossed the Paseo de la Reforma and found ourselves (to our surprise) on the steps of the National Museum of Anthropology – we’d been so close all along! We decided to visit three main sections of the Museum – Teotihuacan, Aztec and Maya. We simply didn’t have time to walk through the Museum’s twelve sections, all of which were spread over 93,000 square metres. The Aztec section contained the sun stone (unearthed beneath the Zocalo in 1790), while the Maya section contained a full scale replica of the tomb of King Pakal (discovered within the Temple of the Inscriptions which we’d visited in Palenque). The Museum building is an incredible feat of architectural design, and I was in awe of the Paraguas, a single column supporting a giant roof that floated over a massive open courtyard.

We picked up a brightly coloured ‘Day of the Dead’ skull in the museum’s charming gift shop (which we had been looking for since arriving in Mexico), and we received two complimentary novels with our purchase. Unfortunately, the novels (which we think were modern fiction) were in Spanish.

We rested for a while in the museum lobby before heading out into the park and making our way to the Museum of Modern Art. There were some extraordinary (and not so extraordinary) works in this Museum, but the highlight was Frida Kahlo’s Las dos Fridas. Some of the temporary exhibitions were a bit hit and miss, but the work of Jose Clemente Orozco and Frida Kahlo were standouts.

We wandered back through the park to the Chapultepec metro station, purchased our return tickets, headed underground and jumped onto a train. It wasn’t anywhere near as crowded as the peak hour morning train we had crammed into five hours earlier. We jumped off at the Balderas metro station, climbed the stairs into daylight and navigated the dusty bustling streets back to our hotel, detouring to El Heuquito for some our favourite pork tacos on the way. We arrived back at 3:30pm. It had been a long day on our feet (six and a half hours), and we were feeling it. We freshened up and worked on our travel writing into the late afternoon.

We headed out to our favourite ‘no name’ restaurant for dinner at 7:30pm, which was only 50 metres from our hotel. Ren started with a fresh fruit water, while I started with a Raicilla mezcal served with orange slices sprinkled with chilli powder. It wasn’t quite as smoky as my previous mezcal, but it was still fantastic. I ordered the guacamole with green tomato, pipicha herb and fried grasshoppers, while Ren ordered the nopales (prickly pear cactus paddles) and mushroom soup. Both meals were served with steaming hot tortillas and tasty hot salsas. It was an incredible night. We’d really fallen for this little hipster place, and we were talking about coming back for lunch (which would be our third visit)!

I woke early the next morning and headed down to the hotel reception. I wanted to print one of the photos Ren had taken of a guitarist who had played at our table during one of our meals in Merida. I loved his guitar, and I wanted to use the photo to explain to the music store owners in Bolivar Street what I was looking for. With the photo printed, we headed to La Espiga Panificadoras bakery for breakfast, which was just around the corner from our hotel. The place was brimming with freshly baked bread and pastries, so we went berserk and ordered a croissant, a savoury roll, two sweet pastries and two cappuccinos. We managed to eat it all bar one of the sweet pastries, which we wrapped up and took with us.

Feeling energised, we made our way to the Supreme Court. We’d tried unsuccessfully to get into this impressive building a few days earlier, but we needed proof of identity, and Ren had left her driver’s licence at the hotel. Armed with our licences, we arrived at the entrance to find a long queue of suits (possibly students) waiting to get in. We wandered the Zocalo looking for photo possibilities until the queue thinned, and then headed back to the entrance. We handed over our driver’s licenses, picked up our audio guides and headed through security, only to find that cameras were not allowed… what a disappointment. However, we quickly realised why not – we were walking through a government building, where people were working and going about their daily lives.

Some of the murals in the Supreme Court left us speechless. The works of Jose Clemente Orozco (which we had especially come to see) were powerful in their singularity of content and message, but they paled somewhat in comparison to the harrowing hyper-realist murals of Rafael Cauduro. The fact that a national government would commission, and freely display, artworks depicting the brutality of state-sponsored torture in its very own justice department is commendable (to say the least)! There were sections of the murals I would have liked to photograph, but there were others I could not even contemplate capturing. I think it was a wise choice to ban cameras – there are some art works that should only be experienced in situ.

Feeling slightly dazed, we gathered our cameras and drivers licenses and walked the short distance around the Zocalo to the Metropolitan Cathedral. We’d dropped in here on our first day in Mexico City, but we thought we drop in again to see if we could enter the larger of the two chapels (which had been blocked to tourists the last time due to a mass taking place). To our surprise, a mass was taking place, but we were free to walk around the chapel. I’ve no idea what differed from our last visit, but I have to admit feeling extremely uncomfortable gawking at the Alter of the Kings (behind the main alter) while the priest, who was only metres from me, gave his sermon to twenty faithful parishioners. Places of worship are fantastic to visit and photograph, but during a mass… Anyway, despite my discomfort, I got some fantastic shots.

It was now time to re-visit the Secretariat of Education (which houses a number of frescos painted by Diego Rivera). We’d tried to visit on our first day in Mexico City, but we had been unable to enter due to a public demonstration which had drawn a massive riot police presence throughout the city. We were committed to visiting the building, so we walked the short distance from the Metropolitan Cathedral to the Plaza Santo Domingo, from which the Secretariat of Education building is entered.

As we approached the plaza, we noticed a large number of makeshift tents erected outside the building, and plaza itself was literally obscured from view. This was a sit-in of massive proportions, and the riot police presence hadn’t subsided. We noticed the door to the building was slightly ajar, so we walked towards it and Ren asked the police guard if we could see the Diego Rivera frescos. He smiled uncomfortably and said “Sorry miss, we’re closed today”. When Ren asked why, he nodded his head embarrassingly towards the sea of tents in the plaza and shrugged his shoulders. Ren asked what the demonstration was about, and he simply replied “Education”. We understood entirely, and we felt sorry for him. He said “Come back on Monday, we’ll be open then”, but we knew we would have left Mexico City by then. We thanked him and made our way back through the demonstrators towards the House of Tiles (Casa de los Azulejos). It seemed ironic that only moments previously we had been amazed by public artworks depicting state-sponsored crimes, yet now, on every corner of the capital’s Centro Historico, riot police outnumbered demonstrators seeking better conditions for educationalists. The Marxist slogan ‘Workers of the World Unite’ screams from almost every mural in the city, yet when the workers of Mexico unite, riot police line the streets.

I must admit (and I’m embarrassed to admit this) that if I was the Commissioner of Police in Mexico, I would ban the use of smart phones by police when they were on duty, because all of these young officers were completely distracted and engrossed by their phones. I think social media updates were much higher on their radar than demonstrators seeking better conditions for teachers and students.

Silently accepting that things are as they are (and that educational equality in Mexico is considerably more important than our fleeting experience of Diego Rivera’s frescos), we headed to the next place on our list of destinations for the day – the House of Tiles. We wandered through the old building and looked down on the diners in the Sanborns courtyard restaurant from the first floor balcony.

We then walked a very short distance along the bustling Avenida Madero to the Palace of Fine Arts. We had been fascinated by this amazing architectural structure ever since we arrived in Mexico City, so we were excited to finally get inside. The exhibitions were incredible, and the number of young students wandering through the palace was refreshing. The white, black and pink marble interior was extraordinary, and it must have cost a fortune to build in its time (i.e. the 1930s). I loved the music exhibition, which featured artworks of all styles and genres that focused on music as the key subject matter. However, the major attraction for Ren and I were the murals on the second and third floors of the palace. In particular, we’d come to see Diego Rivera’s ‘Man at the Crossroads’, a mural that had been commissioned for New York’s Rockefeller Centre but was subsequently destroyed (at the request of the Rockefellers) because of its anti-capitalist themes. Rivera recreated the mural at the palace, and his recurring Marxist motifs were ever present, including the slogan ‘Workers of the World Unite’ on a red flag held by Trotsky and Marx (among others). The irony wasn’t lost on us.

Exhausted and content from such an intense cultural experience within the Palace of Fine Arts, we walked over the road to the Sears Department Store and headed to the Finca don Porfirio Cafeteria on the eighth floor. This cafe’s outlook is its main claim to fame – it is located on a thin ledge outside the building, and provides an incredible view of the Palace of Fine Arts and the surrounding Alameda Central district. We ordered a cappuccino and horchata latte as a small token to use the outdoor ledge to photograph the palace and surrounding roof-scape of the Alameda Central. I think most of the cafe’s customers were doing exactly the same thing.

We made our way back to the hotel, dropping into one of the few banks that didn’t have a queue of people stretching into the street, waiting to use the ATM. We decided to have a late lunch at La Casa del Pavo, an old-fashioned gritty little restaurant specialising in tortas – and tortas de pavo (hot turkey rolls with avocado) in particular. We ordered two turkey rolls and a consume especial en taza (turkey broth with avocado). The food was incredible, but I wasn’t feeling 100%, so we packaged up what we didn’t eat and headed back to the hotel. I’d been carrying a stomach bug for over a week, and while I’d hit it with anti-biotics in Antigua, it still wasn’t gone, so the anti-biotics came out again.

We settled into the hotel room for what remained of the afternoon, venturing out around 6:30pm to get a few pastries from La Espiga Panificadoras where we’d breakfasted early in the day. With our turkey rolls and pastries, we worked on our travel notes until 12:30pm with the background noise of a great rock band somewhere in the close surrounds of our hotel. It was Friday night in Mexico City – not the best night to be feeling under the weather, but things could be worse. We loved this city, and I knew my stomach would eventually calm down. We were about to embark on a food tour of Mexico, and nothing was going to stop me enjoying the food I’d been eating for the past four weeks!

On our fourth day in Mexico City we decided to spend the day doing arty and parky things in Bosque Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park). We’d already seen a few of Mexico’s iconic art works, and we wanted to see more. After a sleep-in, we left the hotel at 9am and went for a longer than expected walk through the nearby neighbourhoods looking for a lavanderia (laundry).

Looking for a laundry can sometimes lead to exploring the most local of neighbourhoods, and often these neighbourhoods aren’t that far from the hotel and restaurant streets, yet we never seem to find them until we get lost or have to search for somewhere to wash our clothes. After two failed attempts at finding a laundry that opened before 10am, we got instructions from a local and finally had success. We then walked to Balderas Street, found the Balderas metro stop and hopped on a train on the pink line to Chapultepec.

Well I say ‘hopped on’ like it was that easy – it wasn’t. Balderas metro station is large (as it services two lines), and after we easily navigated buying our tokens, we walked to the information office to ask which direction we should walk for the pink line. The old gentleman at the info office was so engrossed in his book that it took about 30 seconds for him to realise we were respectfully waiting for him to notice us, at which point he apologised profusely and asked where we were heading. But before I could say another word, he got out a very large pointer to tap out our journey on a poster that was only a few inches away from him. He made sure we knew which stations we had to pass before our stop (which we’d already memorised from our metro map but we politely let him go through his spiel). After an age of the tapping and pointing demonstration, he finally paused, and I quickly asked ‘la direccion es la linea rosa por favor?’ He smiled and pointed. He was such a lovely man who clearly took his job seriously. But I reckon we missed three trains in that time. 😊

It was the tail end of morning peak hour and the platform was filled to the point of people almost falling onto the tracks. As the train arrived, a wave of humanity was spat out of the train and our opposite wave of humanity fought through the doors before they slammed shut. We had shuffled into a space already seething with humans and tried really hard to hold our footing when the train surged off to the next station. By this point all my old London tube and Hong Kong MTR catching tricks came flooding back, and I remembered that it’s far easier to become one with the rest of the human scrum than to fight for space. The metro stations whizzed by, and when we eventually got to Chapultepec station, I unstuck my face from a stranger’s armpit and began the process of extricating myself out of the train. The metro is very straightforward and easy to use, but using a new form of public transport during peak hour probably wasn’t the best idea.

Bosque Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park) is a huge park stretching over four square kilometres. It’s a very popular space with locals and tourists, as it holds a wide range of activities and attractions. There were many large museums, a zoo, a boating lake, works of art, monuments, fountains, the National Cemetery and an amusement park (along with wooded areas and wildlife). Even though we spent the better part of the day at the Park, we still couldn’t get a grasp of its real magnitude. We were mainly there to visit the Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum of Anthropology, but wanted to fit in other sites as well.

From the metro station, we walked into the park and into a walkway which was hosting a stunning collection of nature photos. From here we walked past a very large and gleaming white monument to Ninos Heroes (the Boy Heroes), six teenage military cadets who died defending Mexico from invading US forces on 13 September 1847 (13th September is now a national holiday).

We kept walking to Castillo de Chapultepec, an opulent and expansive castle at the end of a winding driveway. It is built on Grasshopper Hill (which is ‘Chapultepec’ in Nahuatl), after which the whole park is named. The castle once housed Emperor Maximilian I, but the Mexicans decided a monarchy wasn’t for them, executed him and declared a republic. The castle was much bigger and had more exhibitions in the attached National History Museum than we’d realised. It also had an eye catching ceiling painting of Juan Escutia, one of the Boy Hero soldiers who jumped to his death from the castle, wrapped in the Mexican flag.

I wasn’t expecting to like the castle as much as I did, but it was a real pleasure to wander through the art, the architecture, the beautiful stained glass, the large open courtyards and the atriums. My favourite part of the castle was the stained glass sections just off the royal bedrooms – it was stunning beyond words. The view of the city from the castle gardens was hazy, but it was good to get a sense of the magnitude of the city on all sides of the hill. Apparently the castle was one of the filming locations of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, and I can totally see why.

After we finished at the castle, we started following the signs towards Museo Nacional de Antropologia (National Museum of Anthropology). To say the park is badly sign posted is an understatement. We got lost a few times, but didn’t feel too bad as we kept seeing other people who were lost and confused too, and we almost formed a band of lost ones, telling people which routes were dead ends and which direction we were going to head in next. Turns out the park is dissected by a major road and the museum was on the other side, which had confused many of us.

By now we were dying for a drink and some food, but the stalls lining the park paths didn’t appeal to either of us. So we were quite fortunate to stumble upon a cafe by the lake in a gorgeously designed Porrua Bookshop which had been built around a few old trees. We sat under a tree (indoors!) and shared a toasted turkey ham and cheese sandwich, and a very sweet mango smoothie that gave us heaps of immediate energy. On a turkey note, the turkey here is so much tastier than what we get at home.

Suitably fortified we crossed Paseo de la Reforma and entered the incredible National Museum of Anthropology. This museum claims to contain the most impressive collection of Mesoamerican artefacts, but the building itself is also seriously impressive. The exhibition halls are set around a long rectangular courtyard with the beautifully designed two storey high Umbrella water feature as a focal point, which is a roofed structure with a central carved tower. On the ground floor there are individual halls dedicated to each of the cultural regions of Mesoamerica, with corresponding upstairs rooms that have contemporary exhibits of that cultural group. We worked our way around the courtyard in an anti-clockwise direction.

We started at the Teotihuacan hall. As well as the expected artefacts and explanations of the ancient city, I was surprised to see there was a small outdoor model of the city. It was weird but also exciting to think that we had been climbing those pyramids just the day before.

Our main object of interest was the Mexica/Aztec exhibit with the famous circular Sun Stone or ‘Aztec Calendar’. The sunken eyes of the Aztec sun god Tonatiuh stares out from the centre of this beautiful arrangement of hieroglyphs and numbers. Some anthropologists believe this monolithic dial refers to the era of the Fifth Sun, which corresponds to our present time. Others believe that despite its calendar-like appearance, it was a circular platform where gladiatorial sacrifices were performed, and where the blood of warriors was fed to the sun god.

We also visited the Maya exhibit which was very enjoyable for me. It covered findings from areas we’d just been travelling in – southeast Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, and I loved putting what we’d seen into a larger context. I especially loved the Palenque exhibit, mostly because it had been my favourite Maya ruin, but also because it was a well curated exhibit. The jade necklace and jade mask of King Pakal were a definite highlight.

We walked through a few other exhibits that caught our attention, including one that gave an overall look at early settlers on the continent, and a temporary exhibit of textiles and ceramics. I can see how someone could spend a whole day or more in the Museum of Anthropology, but we are speedy museum types by nature, and we zoomed through in a few hours, just zoning in on the exhibitions we were interested in.

We were shattered by this stage, but we still walked through the lovely and well-priced gift shop and bought a small colourful skull as a souvenir for ourselves and a slice of peanut brittle to give us a sugar hit for our last stop.

After re-crossing the Paseo de la Reforma back into the main park area, we followed more dodgy signs to the Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art). The entrance to the building was underwhelming, and I can see why we (and others) nearly walked right past it. The temporary exhibitions downstairs focused on the works of contemporary Mexican artists, and the permanent collection upstairs contained an excellent selection of art from notable artists like Jose Clemente Orozco, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Vicente Rojo and many others. I was thrilled beyond words to finally lay eyes on my favourite of Frida Kahlo's paintings – Las Dos Fridas! I stood grinning at it for ages. I was also very glad we’d gone on a quiet weekday, as the crowds were minimal and we could spend as much time as we wanted looking at the art without getting in the way of other people.

We decided we were at the end of our energy reserves for the day at Chapultepec. Even though we were tired, it had been a great day and we had seen a lot of fantastic art and architecture. I noticed an excessive amount of the art we saw was obsessed with death and suffering. I initially attributed it to the overarching Catholic influence in the country, but then remembered that even in pre-Hispanic times, the Maya and Aztecs were quite preoccupied with these subjects. I’d also noticed that humour in Mexican art tends to be on the morbid end of the spectrum. I have a dark sense of humour, but at times, this was slightly too morbid even for me.

We caught the metro back to the Balderas metro stop and walked to El Huequito on Ayuntamiento Street for more tacos al pastor (marinated pork tacos) – these really are superb tacos! It was well and truly time to get back to our hotel… we needed to rest our feet and ease our brains from the huge amount of sensory overload we’d subjected them to. We crashed in our room, giving the afternoon rain storm (that struck every day like clockwork) time to blow over. We caught up on some travel writing, and I even managed to post our Merida blog.

Predictably, we went back to Bosforo Next Door for dinner again. I re-ordered the nopales (prickly pear cactus paddles) and mushroom soup, and we also ordered the guacamole with chapulines (grasshoppers) and pipicha (also called chepiche, an Oaxacan herb with pine needle-like leaves and hints of citrus and anise). The small deep fried salty grasshoppers were surprisingly tasty and worked well with the guacamole and very toasty tostadas (toasted tortillas), but we both disliked the taste of the pipicha herb – it was pungent and had a strong flavour that hung around for a while. Andrew also ordered another mezcal with the help of the waiter, and while it was good, it wasn’t as nice and smoky as the first one we’d had there. Their agua del dia (water of the day) was lime and plum, which was very delicious.

It had been a long but fabulous day, and we were understandably very tired. I was so happy we’d opted to eat near the hotel, and I was also grateful for our very comfortable hotel room and bed, as we’d had a few very big days of exploration.

On our fifth day in Mexico City, we decided to continue our walking tour of the inner city area and go back to the Secretaria de Educacion Publica and the Suprema Corte de Justicia, as we had failed to gain entry and see the murals at both buildings a few days earlier.

We walked to the Zocalo via Indepedencia with the hope of finding somewhere for breakfast on the way, and it turned out there was a great bakery – La Espiga Panaderia – just around the corner from our hotel. After figuring out the complicated payment system we ordered cappuccinos, toasted ham and cheese croissants, a ham roll and two custard pastries. It was a nice and relaxing start to the day.

By the time we walked to the Suprema Corte de Justicia, there was a long queue of what looked like a university class, so we hung around and took some photos of the Zocalo area for a little while. Admission into the Supreme Court required ID, which I had made sure I had this time, and we also registered for and got the free audio guide and map. However, we were disappointed when we discovered that no cameras were allowed inside.

We made our way around the building, searching out the murals in four corner stairwells and in the central stairwell and landing. The map was very helpful, but after a few seconds (as always) the audio guides got annoying and we dumped them. It allowed us to walk at our pace and enjoy the murals without listening to detailed information that wasn’t always interesting or relevant (to us anyway). The four stairwells had very different styles of murals by different artists, but all with themes of justice and power. One mural in particular, by Rafael Cauduro, really moved us and we spent a lot of time in this particular stairwell. We had gone mainly to look at Jose Clemente Orozco’s work, but to be honest the brutality and raw pain in Cauduro’s work overshadowed all the other murals.

I’m glad we persisted with gaining entry into the Supreme Court, as I loved stumbling upon the unexpected gem of Rafael Cauduro’s work. However, it was a bit awkward being a tourist in a workplace, and I felt decidedly underdressed among all those suits. Yet I have to admit, it was fascinating walking past open doors and looking into the small and busy law offices piled high with paperwork.

After leaving the Supreme Court we found ourselves walking past the Cathedral, so we decided to go in to see the parts of the interior that had been closed off for Mass on the first day we visited. There was another Mass going on, but strangely the front of the church wasn’t cordoned off this time. It felt strange to walk around a church and behind the main altar, especially when there was a Mass going on in another part of the huge cathedral. However, the cathedral is structured in such a way that only the central part of the church was used for Mass. The church and many other buildings around this part of the city were sinking and standing at awkward angles. I couldn’t capture it in the photos, but it was weird standing on a slanting marble floor while looking up at tall columns that were leaning in at an angle.

After leaving the Cathedral we walked back to Secretaria de Educacion Publica to check out the Diego Rivera murals inside the building, but as we drew near, for a second time things didn’t look good. It looked like the protests from the other day had progressed to a sit-in at the plaza. A mini tent city had sprung up and there was a heavy police presence. The security guard at the building was lovely and apologised that he couldn’t let us in, asking us to come back on Monday. Sadly we would have left the city by Monday, so it didn’t look like we were going to see Diego Rivera’s murals at the Education Secretariat.

Next we visited the Sanborn department store on Avenida Madero. Sanborn has stores all over the country, but the one in Mexico City’s Centro Historico is unique, as it is housed in Casa de los Azulejos (House of Tiles), a spectacular blue-tiled 16th-century building. Inside, among the magazines, clothing and housewares, there is a dining room adorned in murals in a soaring courtyard with fluted stone columns. It was simply gorgeous, but there was a queue to get in, so we walked upstairs, took some photos and decided to come back on another day to try their famous enchiladas suizas.

The Palacio de Belles Artes wasn’t far from Casa de los Azulejos, so we decided to spend the rest of the morning exploring the Palace of Fine Arts. The marble building is as beautiful as it is imposing – art nouveau outside, art deco inside. It hosts orchestras, opera, the national dance company and two museums, and it features expansive murals on its second and third floors. An entire wall is covered by Diego Rivera's El Hombre en la Cruce de Caminos (Man at the Crossroads), originally commissioned for New York City’s Rockefeller Centre, but destroyed because of its communist and anti-capitalist themes. Fortunately, Rivera repainted the mural, renaming it Man, Controller of the Universe. The building also contains murals by Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Rufino Tamayo. We spent a lot of time walking between the floors and revisiting the murals, as we kept seeing new details in the extensive works.

I had a very unexpected and superb surprise when walking through an exhibition of music themed artworks on the first floor. I suddenly found myself standing in front of a small Dali painting called Romeo and Juliet (1942) that I had never seen or heard of before. It was a beautiful little treasure and totally made my day. I’ve since looked up the painting and it was painted by Dali after being asked to design the set and costumes for a ballet production of Romeo and Juliet. After that very lucky find I walked around with my eyes thoroughly peeled, but the only other piece that caught my eye above others was a Henri Matisse piece called ‘Jazz’ and Tamara de Lempicka’s ‘Woman with Mandolin’.

I really hadn’t expected that the Palacio de Belles Artes would have so much beautiful art inside, so we spent much longer there than we had thought we would. I was totally in love with it – a gorgeous building both inside and out. We got the best view of the building’s facade by visiting a quiet coffee shop on the 8th floor of the Sears department store across the road. I had a horchata latte (a hot version of the milky drink of rice, nuts and cinnamon) and Andrew had a cappuccino. The view of the Palacio was stunning… I love a coffee with a view!

We were only around the corner from our hotel, so we went back so I could change into some lighter clothing, as the day had warmed up. We walked back out to Casa del Pavo for their famous turkey and avocado tortas (rolls) we’d read about. I also had a turkey and avocado soup (as I’d noticed most people were having it), and it was really delicious. I could live on the soups in Mexico City. The tortas were also tasty, but Andrew started feeling a bit hot and bothered during the meal, so we got the rest of the meal as a take away and walked back to the hotel.

We needed to get to an ATM on the way back, and we were surprised that every ATM we passed on Avenida Madero had a queue with about 20 or 30 people in it. I suppose it was Friday afternoon, but that was still crazy. There’s a security risk with using ATMs on the street, as ATM skimming technology is very popular in this part of the world and the street ATMs are the most vulnerable – so we only ever used ATMs that were inside banks or inside security vestibules. We eventually came across one in a bank on the second floor near the Torre Latinoamerica building, which was blissfully empty.

Andrew still wasn’t 100%, and it seems his tummy bug from San Cristobal had made a reappearance. So we got more pastries from the bakery, rehydration drinks from our favourite 7-11 on the corner and settled in for a quiet evening. It was our first night in for a while and it was much needed. I caught up on some writing and general travel research for our upcoming trip.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve only been in Mexico City for five days – it’s been seriously fabulous but pretty full-on. We feel like we’ve genuinely engaged with Mexico City’s architecture, art, culture, food and history over that time. We’ve now explored the outer boroughs of Mexico City, and a wider circle of the inner city areas including Zona Rosa and Bosque de Chapultepec.

We have another two days in the city before we start a trip through central Mexico, and over those days we’re hoping to explore a few more neighbourhoods… at a slightly more relaxed pace. As much as we had been kicking ourselves for not coming to Mexico City sooner, I think we’re more than making up for it now!

See you around Mexico City.


16th July 2016

Wow just wow! What a great experience! Mexico City is unbelievable isn't it. I can't get enough of it there. Loved your interactions with the old map man and being squished on the train, both happened to me too. I don't know about you but when I'm there I feel so insignificant amongst the millions and find it surprising how graceful and lovely they all are.
16th July 2016

We seriously LOVE Mexico City! And I agree, the people are fabulous. It’s now one of our top five favourite cities... I could keep gushing on about how fabulous we thought it was :)
17th July 2016
guacamole with fried grasshoppers

Perfect travelers!
As usual, I'm so impressed by your research that showed you fabulous spots to visit (views of the Palacio de Bellas Artes from a coffee shop!), down to specific pieces of art and the best tacos and tortas, yet you were also so open to discovering magical new places and treats. A perfect balance! And like you, I adore seeing in museums what I've just explored, though I tend to go first to the museum and then out to the sites--either way, it adds depth to the experience. And I love your adventurous eating--grasshoppers!
17th July 2016
guacamole with fried grasshoppers

Re: Perfect travelers!
Tara you know I love my travel research! :) We quite like winging it in smaller places, but I really don't know how we could have grappled with an enormous place like Mexico City without planning ahead. We loved the fried grasshoppers - the protein of the future!
18th July 2016

Love the artwork
Mexico has always been high on our list but somehow eluded us but thanks to your blog is back up there. I (Shelley) love Frida Kahlo's work and we both want to see Diego Rivera work must be the lefty coming out.
19th July 2016

Re: Love the artwork
I think you guys will love Mexico. From what I have seen, Diego Rivera was the quintessential chardonnay socialist - I had no idea how seriously rich the man was. I well and truly got my Frida fix while we were there...I even found some limited edition Frida Kahlo converse shoes (her Trusties have obviously sold out for commercial gain, she's probably turning in her grave!)
19th July 2016

The fine balance of food, history, art and architecture
You've embraced Mexico and your study, research and planning has served you well. Love reading your adventure. It will help us map out our trip to Mexico City. It is a large city and you may have missed a neighborhood or two so you'll have to come back. the foods.
20th July 2016

Re: The fine balance of food, history, art and architecture
Oh we are DEFINITELY going back...and we have already talked about what we would do on our first and second day back :)
19th July 2016
bosforo next door - raicilla mezcal

Oh my!
You are going all in.
20th July 2016
bosforo next door - raicilla mezcal

Re: Oh my!
We just love tasting new flavours that we've never tasted before, and mezcal was one of them...

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