Away We Go to Mexico - City, that is
11 February 2016 | Mexico City
Beth / ffffffreezing at 9 C when we first arrived
We took Viva Aerobus to Mexico City on Wednesday for a visit with our old pals, Linda and Charles Austin, in a very old, but new-to-us city.
Jim was able to get an excellent price on flights through Expedia ($320 US for 2 round trip tickets) and we knew we didn't have a weather window to leave for Florida, so we grabbed the opportunity to explore more of Mexico. And boy, were we surprised!
Neither of us expected quite the grandeur that the historic centre of the city displays. We knew about the pyramids nearby, and the numerous museums, and that it sits over 7000 feet high in a bowl ringed by volcanic mountains, and that it is huge - over 21 million inhabitants. But we didn't expect the elegant boulevards, a modern and efficient (and greatly over-crowded) Metro system, or the numerous parks and well maintained public buildings.
Although, like any huge city, it has its areas where poverty and hardship are the norm and where danger is real for both inhabitants and visitors, it also has grand avenues, magnificent statues, breathtakingly beautiful old buildings and imaginative new ones. It has sidewalk cafes and restaurants ranging from elegant to simple, street food vendors and open air markets as well as high-end shops and malls. We packed our days full, and experienced as much of the city as we could!
One unexpected event for this time period was the visit of Papa Francisco. It meant that we couldn't see inside the National Palace or Mexico City Cathedral in the huge plaza called Zocalo. We could, however, see grandstands being erected before his arrival, and then masses of people gathering to catch a glimpse as he was driven along the roadways over the course of our stay.
On that first afternoon, we joined Charles and Linda on a double decker bus tour to get a feel for the city. It did help to orient us, and we got a bit of history as we passed magnificent buildings and historic neighbourhoods for the first time, but the lingering memory for both Jim and me is of cold seeping into our very bones! We each had one fleece jacket, a couple of long sleeved T-shirts, and a pair of lightweight long pants (well, Jim had a pair of jeans too). We knew it would be colder there, but we had packed to come to the boat with the intention of going to Panama! Truly warm clothes just weren't in our wardrobe, and we happened to arrive on one of the coldest days. The hot shower, cups of steaming limon (lime) water were welcome when we arrived back at their spacious and elegant apartment.
On Thursday morning, I was determined to find warmer clothing despite Linda's reminders that the forecast was for increasingly warm weather as the days went on. In the end, I never did find the jackets or heavier pants and socks I was hunting for. I did buy a wool wrap at a market stall - and then didn't have the opportunity to wear it because yes - the temperatures did go up!
Charles was taking Spanish classes in the mornings so we three amused ourselves each morning and he joined us for our afternoon excursions. We took the Metro down to the huge plaza called the Zocalo on Thursday and saw that preparations were well underway for the Papal visit. The Palacio Nacional with its Diego Rivera murals stands along one side of the square, and we emerged from the Metro station right beside the grand Catedral Metropolitana - decorated that day with pictures of Papa Francisco. Our Lonely Planet guidebook says that the cathedral was a work in progress starting in 1573 and continuing all through the colonial period as successive generations of builders created a catalogue of architectural styles. It really does look like that, especially with the very ornate Segrario Metropolitano adjoining it.
Since we couldn't get inside, we wandered the narrow streets in the neighbourhood, admiring the intricate tiles on some buildings, the decorative carving on others, and dodging the many vendors encouraging us to enter their little shops. After trying out one of the chain of VIPS restaurants - picture Denny's Mexican style - for some lunch, we spent a couple of hours leisurely making our way home - through parks with fountains and benches, past the magnificent Palacio des Belles Artes (more about that in another post), across the Plaza de la Republica dominated by the huge domed Monumento a la Revolución.
And then we came to Paseo de la Reforma. Oh my! What a street! No - that is not a big enough word for this grand thoroughfare that runs from Tlateloco to Bosque de Chapultepec. It was laid out by Emperor Maximilian of Hapsburg to connect his castle in Chapultepec with the old city centre. (And that man knew how to do "grand". I will tell you about his castle later!) The boulevard links a number of traffic circles, each with a magnificent statue in the centre. Charles and Linda's apartment is just a couple of blocks from El Angel, a golden Winged Victory on a 45 metre pillar, so we always knew we were nearing home when we spotted that glorious angel shining high in the sky. Among the sculptures in other circles we walked by were Monumento a Cuauhtemoc, memorializing the last Aztec Emperor, Monumento a Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus), a more modern, bright yellow representation of a horse's head, and my next favourite after El Angel, La Diana Cazadora - who looks like Diana the Huntress, but is meant to portray the archer of the North Star. Several of these sculptures also have fountains ringing them.
Along with the historic figures in the centre of the Paseo, are modern and attractive buildings rising high on each side. Really, our heads were swiveling constantly the first few times we walked here, taking in the old and the new, watching verrrry carefully whenever we wanted to cross a street because the amount of traffic reflects the size of the city. We learned to watch the locals, and if they crossed, we crossed right on their heels!
By the time we got home that evening, we discovered we had walked almost 15 km during the day! No wonder our feet were tired even though our heads were whirling with the sights and sounds of the city.