Here’s a special guest post, brought to you by my very own mom! Earlier this year she went on a birthday trip to Mexico City and has been raving about it ever since. My parents, Matt, and I were supposed to go for Dia de Muertos this year, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, we’ve had to postpone until early spring 2018. I thought it would be cool to include some content from my mom on here since she is the reason I am so filled with wanderlust. Here’s what she has to say about her Mexico City adventures.
I have a special place in my heart for Mexico. As a child and as a teenager, I grew up vacationing in Mexico. At a young age, we traveled to beach resort towns, picturesque lakeside villages, and to the big city of Guadalajara, which we’ve affectionately nicknamed “GDL”. I continued to travel to Mexico as an adult but always as a girls’ trip with my mother and my sisters. More recently, with my daughter, Katy, has joined the girls’ group. Both my sister Bridgette and I lived in GDL at different times in our lives after graduating high school and before college.
I enjoy the energy and the hustle and bustle of big cities. I enjoy using public transportation, a trait I’ve passed on to my daughter. I’ve lived and visited some pretty amazing cities in my 52 years. I even got to live in Wiesbaden, “the Beverly Hills of Germany” for a period of time. I’ve visited every major city in Western Europe and a few in Eastern Europe. I frequently travel to Washington, DC with my husband where he spends much of his time these days. But Mexico City, who knew I’d love it as much as I did! (Sidenote: GDL, you are still my favorite ciudad in todo Mexico!)
The population of Ciudad De México (CDMX) proper is 9 million people, but the greater area totals to 20 million people. The last time I was in CDMX, was as a child. The only memory I have is one of the Catedral Metropolitana de México. I have this faint memory only recalled because of a photo of my abuela and I standing in front of La Catedral.
So, why CDMX for a birthday trip? There were many reasons. But honestly, for me, it was the opening scene to the newest 007 movie, Spectre. However, I must give my husband, Jeffrey (AKA El Jefe), credit for this trip. He was inspired by the United Airlines Hemispheres Magazine article about Mexico City. After reading it, he brought the Hemispheres magazine home and was dead set on planning a trip. And after reading the article, even I was ready to buy tickets. A few days later we purchased roundtrip tickets from Austin, Texas to Mexico City for just $207 per person!
Ernest Hemingway said it best when he said, “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.” I traveled with a birthday posse of two sisters, my brother and his girlfriend, and my beloved husband. (Hey, this Katy and I’m still mad I wasn’t included on this trip.) Six of us with five wonderful days in CDMX.
We researched exactly what we wanted to do with our three full days in CDMX, and what to do on our two travel half days as well. After all, trips are for seeing as much as possible and having as many adventures as our feet can handle. (Y’all this is where I get it from.) I planned our daily itinerary so that every morning, we knew exactly where we were headed. We had no time for indecisiveness.
This brings me to the top five favorites things I did while in CDMX.
1. Museo Soumaya
My years of living in Europe, studying at the National Preservation Institute, and working as a curator for an archaeological collection made me museum enthusiast. (Ok, now I’m convinced that I am basically my mother.) These days, I make an effort to travel to D.C. a few times a year for my museum fix.
Museo Soumaya is a private museum founded by Carlos Slim, who was the wealthiest person in the world in from 2010-2013. The Museo Soumaya in Polanco is relatively new, opening to the public in 2011. The original Museo opened in 1994 in another CDMX location. The new building is in itself a piece of art, standing six floors tall and covered by 16,000 hexagonal aluminum tiles.
The museum houses a collection of over 66,000 pieces of art, coins, religious relics, and sculptures. It has one of the largest collections of sculptures by Auguste Rodin (famous for The Thinker), since his work a favorite of Slim’s late wife, Soumaya.
My favorite collection in the museum was the Mexican religious relics and Mexican art. I have always been fascinated by European and Mexican churches/cathedrals, and the relics housed in them.
The Slim Foundation believes that art is for everyone. Arte para todos. Therefore, the entrance to the Soumaya is always free. It is fascinating and inspiring, and a must-see for art lovers visiting CDMX.
2. Pyramids at Teotihuacán
My second favorite thing I did on this trip was climbing to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán. Visiting the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon was numero uno on my husband’s to-do list. The pyramids were phenomenal! Out of this world.
Teotihuacán is located 25 miles northeast of Mexico City. We hired a driver for the day to take us to Teotihuacán and made a stop on the way for Mezcal tasting. During this stop, I had the pleasure of seeing some Xoloitzcuintles (Xolos for short), Mexican hairless dogs. Indigenous people believe these dogs are protectors/guardians against evil spirits and intruders.
Once we arrived at the base of the pyramids of the Sun and Moon, we were blown away their magnificence. Armed with hats and lots water, we made our way to the Pyramid of the Sun. It’s the is the third largest pyramid in the world and the largest structure of this type in the western hemisphere. The trek up the pyramid was approximately 216 feet with a 35° slope. The trek is not for the faint of heart, but we saw both young and old doing it. We sat at the top for a good while, soaking in the view and resting weary legs.
We chose not to climb the Pyramid of the Moon since it was a pretty hot day and we didn’t want to wear ourselves out too much before our big night at the symphony.
The excursion to the pyramids took a total of five hours, three at the pyramids with an additional two hours of driving.
3. El Palacio de Bellas Artes
My mother has a personal connection with El Teatro Degollado in GDL, so we developed a love for the teatro from a young age. Any visit to Mexico is not complete without seeing a performance at a teatro.
One word describes El Palacio de Bellas Artes– beautiful. Personally, I believe the Palacio is hands-down the most beautiful building in all of CDMX. On the Friday night of our trip, we all attended the Orquestra Sinfónica Nacional (OSN), the second-oldest symphony in the American continent. As luck would have it, the symphony was performing Der Freischütz (German for “The Marksman”). I have a very special place in my heart for anything German. It was serendipitous.
It was a perfect way to relax for two hours after the trek up the pyramid. As I sat in the symphony, I decided to make a change of plan to our itinerary and add another teatro performance in. I decided that on Sunday morning, my husband and I would break away from the group and our itinerary to attend the National Ballet Folklórico de México. My husband had never seen a Ballet Folklórico and 2017 was the Centenario (100th year) celebration. So on Sunday, we watched the beautiful dancers and their performances. But more importantly, I proudly watched my husband marvel and enjoy the ballet folklórico. It was so worth changing the itinerary.
The Ballet Folklórico de México at the Palacio de Bellas Artes is a must for anyone visiting CDMX. During our past trips to Mexico, we have gone to the ballet on Sunday mornings and I believe such is the tradition for locals.
Just a quick side note about the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Muralism is alive in Mexico, including in GDL. Muralism is an artistic movement that started in 1920 in Mexico that is both educational and very political. The Palacio’s walls on the second floor are covered with murals painted by Orozco, Rivera, Tamaya, Camerena, Siqueiros and a few other artists. There are 17 murals in the Palacio; I’m not sure if saw all 17. I am very familiar with Orozco and Rivera because Orozco’s murals are in famous buildings in GDL. (Orozco is my one of my top three favorite painters of all time.) The most famous mural in the Palacio is El Hombre Controlador Del Universo (Man Controller of the Universe) by Diego Rivera.
There is also a museum in the Palacio De Bellas Artes, located on the second and third floors. You can obtain a ticket, free of charge, from the ticket booth at the entrance of the Palacio to get into the exhibit. We caught the Pinta la Revolución exhibition after the ballet and were fortunate not to have to wait to get into the exhibit. Most of the time we had been around the Palacio, there had been a line to get into the exhibit. I guess the early bird gets into museums without having to wait in lines.
4. Mercado Independencia
Mercado Independencia was two blocks from Puerta Alameda, where we rented an upscale, modern Airbnb during our trip. We walked past el mercado on our way back to our apartment on our second day in CDMX. This find was a fortuitous discovery only two blocks from our apartment. Mercado Independencia is housed in an old historic building that has been restored into an upscale dining and drink establishment. The moment we walked towards the building, I was attracted by the building and its entrance.
We walked in to take a peek and were quickly greeted by a friendly Haitian bouncer who directed us to the third floor. We glanced at the second floor and noted coffee, tea, juice, breakfast, a doggie groomer, and a barber shop. I’d best describe el mercado as a hipster venue. Essentially, the mercado has a variety of fine food and drinks/bars in an upscale food court style setting. The third floor is very nicely done. There is beer, wine, and lots of mezcal! There are at least 10-15 different vendors preparing fresh classic, Mexican food as well as dishes like hamburgers, fries, and seafood. There are plenty of choices. Once you choose your food, you can also order a drink at a bar of your choice, and find a table in the communal style seating.
It was very obvious that it is a local hangout, but we felt very welcome. Our favorite establishment in the mercado was the Mezcalería at La Barra del Patrón. We became fast-friends with David who made us the most amazing mezcal cocktails. We enjoyed watching David make drinks with unique ingredients like rosemary, sage, basil, kiwi, hibiscus, tomatillos, and cayenne.
This is a perfect place for a late lunch or after dinner drinks.
5. Street Art
Perhaps in another life I was an artist. A few weeks before our trip to CDMX, my sister recommended the Vaga Brothers’ YouTube videos for Mexico City. In a few of their videos, they talk about the city’s street art movement. After watching these videos, I became familiar with #StreetArtChilango. I love the word chilango, it’s slang for a male from Mexico City (chilanga is the female form). Most of the street art is in Condesa and Roma, two areas in CDMX that reminded me of East Austin and South Congress. Unfortunately for me, we went to Condesa and Roma only twice. Once for dinner at an Argentine Restaurant (El Diez) and once to breakfast to Tortas de Chilaquil (which was the absolute best breakfast I had the entire trip).
Although I did not see much of the street art in Condesa and Roma, I did manage to see “El Stormtrooper” and few others. We looked for Princess Leia but ended up in el Parke de España where we made more fast friends with a local veterinarian and an American History teacher who lived in Condesa. Next trip, I will dedicate an entire day to art walk and do a street tour of Roma and Condesa in search of more street art. If you’d like to see how amazing it all is, search #StreetArtChilango on Instagram.
Those are my top five favorite things I did during my trip to CDMX, but there are a few more places I could have written about. The Pastelería Ideal, La Catedral Metropolitana de México, El Zócalo, and La Ciudadela Mercado de Artesanías are all wonderful and worth a visit. For my next trip to CDMX, I plan to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacán, hike the Pyramid of the Moon, spend an entire afternoon in Xochimilco, visit the Anthropology Museum, and go to the top of the Monumento a la Revolución.
We all had a wonderful time in CDMX. We felt very safe in this populated city. Everywhere we went in CDMX, there was a very strong presence of police or security guards. In fact, it’s estimated that for every 100 people there is one policeman. Despite feeling safe, we made sure we were always aware of our surroundings. We used Uber instead of the metro, mostly to save time and due to the fact that in CDMX it’s safer. We made certain to be very aware of when we walked into or near less desirable parts of the city. We spoke Spanish as much as possible. Most importantly, just like any other big city, we tried not to stand out as Americans. The secret is to try and blend in. And, fortunately for us, we never encountered any bad hombres.
So there you have it. CDMX has become a top destination for my travel adventures. Mexico City, we will return to you soon!