NAVIGATING MEXICO CITY
Updated: Feb 27
NAVIGATING MEXICO CITY
“How did we get lost again?” I said to Aaron, my frustration audible.
We were at the end of Day 1 of 4. We had, with great fortitude, gotten from the airport to our hotel. It hadn’t been easy. After discovering an Uber would cost $30, we chose the 25 cent Metro route instead. Easy, until we were kicked on to the street. The line was broken.
“You must take the bus,” the Metro people told us, pointing to the street, outside the Metro. Leave this people-filled, lit-up place and go into the dark? Apparently, yes. Look for the green bus at Station A, she said. I think. So off we went, tromping with our heavy packs into the darkness, through shadowy crowds and uneven sidewalks. And yay (cue sigh of relief), it was there. We’d done it. I loved that Aaron just following me blindly, not knowing if I knew what I was doing. A good travel partner.
Keen for our first taste of Mexican food and a cold cerveza, we wandered up to the historical centre’s biggest plaza, Zocalo.
Our eyes agape, we wandered through the swarms of Mexican tourists and vendors selling glow-in-the-dark toys. Too hungry to look for a crowded place which would, perhaps, mean it served good food, we ate at the first place we found. The beer was good. And that’s it. Patience next time, grasshopper.
Taking a side street, both of us sure we were going toward our hotel, we were lost within minutes.
“I think it’s this way,” Aaron said, nodding down a busy street. It wasn’t. Two hours it took to get from the restaurant back to our hotel! By the time we were there, my teeth were sore from gritting them, and the two of us were barely speaking to each other.
But enough of that. Let me tell you about Mexico City. And about my favorite comidas (meals). 'Cause it's all about the food, right?!
We hit many of the popular sites in our colourful, picture-full Eye Witness Guidebook (which provides great info btw: opening hours, the metro line to get there, super maps, etc.). However...
OUR FAVORITE PLACES IN AND NEAR THE CITY WERE:
Templo Mayor (Historical Centre, Metro Stop - Zocolo): 500 years ago, an indigenous people came to a big lake. On an island in the middle of the lake, they saw an eagle on a cactus with a snake in its mouth. Proverb has it, this was where they were to settle. And settle they did. They built what would become Mexico City on top of the lake. And a great temple.
Like Rome, these ancient ruins sit smack in the middle of an urban centre. Though much is under tarps and scaffolding, it was incredible to see what archaeologists have uncovered so far: four layers of volcanic stone, each built on top of the old by a new king, with stone serpents lying guard at the temple entrance.
And inside the museum - a spectacular collection of treasures. I can’t imagine the excitement the archaeologists I see in this old photo as they uncovered the huge stone carving seen below.
.Castillo Chapultepec (Paseo de la Reforma, Metro Stop - Chapultepec): This stunning 18th century castle with its manicured gardens gave us a fantastic view of the city. It was the home of Austrian-born Maximilian I, the emperor of Mexico for 3 years and a favourite of Napoleon Bonaparte. He lived in the castle with his 17 year old wife, Carlota, a young woman sympathetic to the impoverished and a curious girl who irritated her maids by asking too many questions about her new country. The two (Carlota ran the business when her hubby was away) ruled the Republic of Mexico for three years until Maximilian was executed at the age of 37 by a guy who thought he should be Mexico's Emperor.
Roma Norte: We had just a peek at this hip neighbourhood and wish we'd had more time here. Very LGBTQ and all the extra letters and numbers that go with that acronym. Bustling with musicians and street singers, upscale markets, colourful bars, I thoroughly enjoyed this gayer, crazier, and hipper barrio – so fun!
San Angel and Coyoacan: We had one of our best days in these two pueblos, just outside the city. The two pueblos are joined by Calle Francisco Sosa.
In San Angel (Metro Stop - Miguel Angel de Quevada), relax on a pretty, wrought iron bench in one of the pueblo's green parks and absorb the stillness and fresh air, then wander down lovely bougainvillea-filled Calle Francisco Sosa toward Coyoacan.
Stop at the Museo Acuarela, a tiny museum I loved with watercolours from around the world.
Then, in Coyoacan (Metro Stop - Coyoacan), have a latte or a chocolate-filled churro at one of the cute cafe's, then wander up the cobblestone streets, lift your face to the warm sun, and inhale the lemony scent of laundry and cleaning solution that every third world country seems to use (I love it!). Let your map guide you to the San Jacinto Plaza, home of the 16th century San Jacinto Church and its gorgeous gardens.
Hopefully, you’ve pre-bought tickets to the Frida Kahlo Museo, a very popular and often sold out museum in Coyoacan. The museum was the home of Frida Kahlo from 1907 to 1929 until she married Diego Rivera, another well-known Mexican artist . Frida was, besides being famous for her dark unibrow (how cool she was to snub society's need for perfectly beautiful women), was known for painting about her experiences with chronic pain. The poor woman had nothing but chronic pain, having been born with polio, and then skewered by an iron rail while riding a bus at 18 years old which broke the majority of bones in her body. She died at the age of 47.
And now, on to what's MOST important:
My Favorite: Molletes: Soft buns smothered with refried beans, dripping with white cheese and sprinkled with spicy pico de gallo. Yum.
My Least Favorite: Pozole con Cabeza: A soup that would have been tasty if not for the pure-fat chunks of cow’s head floating amongst the corn. Note: Avoid anything with the word 'cabeza' in it.
Important Stuff We Learned (Travel Tips)
Grey hairs (over 60s) get big-time discounts! Like free, sometimes. I did a happy dance on that one. And will forever be mad at myself for missing that when I pre-booked Frida Kahlo museum, paying 250 pesos instead of 25! Grrr.
Mexico City’s Metro is amazing. Often breaking down on some lines, but super efficient regardless (there’s always another way to get where you want to go). The key things to know are:
the colour of the line that includes your destination,
the last station on that line (this will be the sign you will look for when you walk down into the underground metro, and,
how to put on a very confused face (because these people are the kindest ever and will do everything to help you when they see such a face. One lovely fellow insisted we use his card [and money] to get on the metro).
Two links I recommend are:
Metro-Metrobus Mexico – type in the metro station you’re starting at, and the one you want to get to, and voila, you’ll get perfect directions.
Northern Lauren's How To Get Around In Mexico City: A Beginner's Guide - Lauren's blog will give you the complete lowdown on setting yourself up to ride the metro.
If we could have stayed underground in the metro, we would have been perfectly fine. But we had to leave it from time to time to see the sights, and once on the street, we’d get lost. For four days, we jigged between being lost or found. Mostly lost. We’d walk in circles for hours (20,000 steps a day my FitBit said). Sitting to rest was a risk; we didn’t know whether we’d be able to stand up again. By day’s end, my hips swayed like they did when I was pregnant 30 years ago. Poor hips. They've never been the same after our mega hikes in Patagonia back in 2020.
“We’re old!” I cried to Aaron. What the hell? When did that happen?
“Well, at least we’re earning those discounts,” he replied. Yes, there was that. I felt a tad better.
Mexico City is a busy, colourful metropolis, teeming with people. The doors of metro trains at rush hour bulged with people (though they’d always make room for us). Silence was non-existent; day and night, our ears were blasted with police whistles, screaming ambulances, and car horns.
But there is so much life in this city of 32 million people; we couldn’t help but enjoy being part of it. Two tall, white Canadians in sandals and T-shirts, standing out among the much shorter Mexicans in their thick sweaters and jackets (it’s winter, don’t we know?), weaving through each other, sharing the loud but fun music that blasted from all sides of the street, each shop playing something different. We’d laugh at the big voices coming from the small boys selling candy and junk food (the Mexican’s love the stuff!), hats, sunglasses, and no end of other things, and hop to avoid the slosh of soapy water being thrown on the sidewalks to clean up the night’s messes.
It’s a place full of contrasts, from its raucous atmosphere and bustling economy to its heartbreaking poverty and broken sidewalks (kept fastidiously clean by green-uniformed women with medieval brooms). It is a messy and spectacular city.
Would I come again? For sure.
It's been a week of discovery. The good and the bad of Mexico City, the fact that we've grown old without warning (so very sad), AND that we’re both as directionally challenged as each other. And so, it's been a week of learning too. We've learned that we have to stop listening to each other’s guesses about where we are no matter how convincing we speak, and that we need to ask locals more often for directions. And maybe, we may need to trade in our backpacks for suitcases and get on big boats with limited options to get lost on.
We're off now to travel through the pueblo magicos (magic villages) north of Mexico City, then head east to Oaxaca then south to the coast and beaches. Can't wait.
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