Saturday, October 24, 2015
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you! How about an unforgettable holiday with us at New Years’ Jazz in Italy?
Just one day for a first-time visit to Mexico City? Are you crazy? Well here’s why: Some of you may be familiar with the term ” mileage run”. Those of us who need to maintain our status on an airline sometimes need a few thousand more miles in a calendar year to do so. So we look for a bargain fare, and if it can be turned into a little romantic getaway, why not?!
We’ve got about 36 hours in Mexico, and hit the ground running, grabbing a nearly-midnight bite to eat (and café con leche mixed at the table – how much coffee, señor?) at El Popular (open 24 hours) after checking in to the historic center Hampton Inn (never saw one like THIS before – it’s in a renovated Augustinian convent from the 1800s!). With its beautiful tiled corridors surrounding a stained-glass roofed atrium, it’s walking distance from everything we want to see this weekend. Add the fast and free WIFI, an extensive buffet breakfast (also included) and friendly helpful staff, and it’s the perfect choice.
Just a couple of blocks walk on Saturday morning and we’re at the Zocalo, the huge square that, since the time of the Aztecs, has been the center of government and worship. When we asked about walking around last night, the hotel staff said it was safe, and that there were policemen all around – and yes, there certainly were, on every block. Today we see that impressive police presence again – in fact so many anti-riot shielded men in front of the ceramic – adorned (each one honoring a Spanish explorer) federal district buildings, along with a large paddy wagon by the square, that we ask one of them if they’re expecting trouble. No, we’re told, this is just normal security!
The side of the cathedral is as beautiful, if not more so, than the front, and the modern sculptures (see that upside-down profile?) in front are an intriguing contrast.
Just beyond, we walk along a rainbow row of buildings to see the ruins of the Templo Mayor, the Aztec temple begun in the 1300s. If you have just one day in Mexico City, how terrific to have THIS weather! We want to get to the other side, where we can look down on the site from El Mayor, and as we walk down the street by the Palacio Nacional, we’re distracted by the gardens visible beyond, and the very short line of people awaiting entrance – let’s stop here first!
Abundant with succulents, agave, and bougainvillea and poinsettia TREES (not just bushes or plants in this climate!), the gardens, with traces of structures from the time of Hernán Cortés (the Spanish conquistador who overthrew the Aztec empire in the early 1500s) lead us to the main courtyard, and the famed Diego Rivera murals surrounding the palace stairway. From the Aztec beginnings on the right to pre-World-War II (a pensive Frida Kahlo watching the action),the History of Mexico is portrayed in brilliant color.
Thoughtful, we continue around the remains of Aztec rule to the rooftop perch of El Mayor, where we pause for coffee-with-a-view of the pyramids below. Passing one street vendor after another, we resist temptation as we fit in a bit more sightseeing before lunch.
Casa de Azulejos (House of Tiles), an 18th century palace covered in the blue and white tiles of Puebla, houses one of the first Sanborns (a department store-restaurant chain) in the country. The beautiful tilework continues inside, where a gracious courtyard bustles with the Saturday lunch crowd. We’re just looking, gracias. Our lunch destination is Los Girasoles (the sunflowers), where we’re seated by an upstairs window, with several friendly and knowledgeable waiters ready to bring us everything we could want. Kirk bravely tried the house tequila combo, and as he shakes his head in shock after each pepper-topped sip, I abstain from even a tongue-touch of the fiery stuff. We skip the pre-Hispanic delicacies of escamoles (ant eggs) and gusanos de Maguey (chilied worms) and order an array of small plates from around Mexico – shrimp tacos from Veracruz, Blue Quesadillas stuffed with squash flowers – Oaxaca, banana and pork filled tortillas, and Yucatan suckling-pig flautas – served with – you won’t believe this – dog’s nose relish (which was actually delicious)! As we savor each marvelous bite a breeze flutters the tablecloth, and strains of an impressive street band (the vocalist sounds like Joe Bonamassa!) entertain us.
Walking towards the Alameda, a huge park that’s been an important center of town since Aztec times, we pass traditional dancers – the jingles on the guy’s leg (not very visible, sorry) remind us of the Morris Dancers we heard in Bath last month, and the post office. No big deal, right? Well, it’s not just any old post office, but the Palacio Postal, a delectable example of Renaissance Revival design – one of the grand imitations of European architecture from the time of Porfiorio Diaz’ long dictatorship (1876-1911). Wow – what a place to mail a letter!
Back to the Zocalo, we walk through the cathedral with its massive gold altars, crowds of wedding guests in evening dress waiting outside the doors,
then stroll through neighborhoods, some filled with outdoor markets, the vendors hawking their wares, some quiet, with tree-lined lanes and tilting belltowers – from the ’85 earthquake? and are drawn in by the scent of baking to the busiest bakery we’ve ever seen – Pastelería Madrid. Candied sweet potatoes and chunks of pumpkin, anyone? A busy tostada stand by the entry is ready to fortify customers for the job ahead, as the shelf-lined walls go on and on, from one room to another, and patrons carrying trays carefully choose their pastries,then bring them to a counter where efficient uniformed staff wrap them up – I can imagine them on the Sunday breakfast tables tomorrow, a little Day of the Dead goodie alongside. It’s been a tasting tour of Mexico City – for the eyes as well as the mouth – and we finish off with a courtyard dinner at Puntarena Centro, seated by a vertical wall of greenery. One of the most delicious tostadas I’ve ever tasted, laden with sashimi tuna and fried leeks, along with fabulous shrimp and avocado tacos, makes me eager to return for more Mexican delights – 36 hours is just enough to tempt us to come back!