February 29, 2008 - Mexico City, Mexico

It was with some trepidation that Jo and I visited Mexico City in February, but our fears were totally unfounded. We had heard of its reputation as a rough city, where it was not always possible to know exactly what side of the law even those in law enforcement were on. However, our experiences were really positive - and we even felt safe walking some of the streets at night.

My views of the city are definitely tainted by where we chose to stay and spend our time; rather than risking our safety by staying near the zócolo where there are some unsavoury characters and theft, especially pick-pocketing, can be a problem, we decided to stay a few suburbs away in Zona Rosa. Our hostel in this gay neighbourhood was in a quiet street and there was no signage at the front, which meant that although it was a little odd when we arrived and rang someone´s doorbell, the accommodation didn´t stand out, and therefore afforded us a bit more protection. The second time we visited the city we stayed in another location that we had checked out on our first visit; a little closer to the Insurgentes Subway Station, it was also in a ´good´ neighbourhood. Both areas are near the major zone that houses all the top hotels, and Zona Rosa is also the embassy area.

So, accommodation sorted, we spent our days in Mexico City checking out the mostly free public art, including numerous Diego Rivera murals, visiting museums and everything else that the city had to offer. I spent an entire day at the National Museum of Anthropology which houses the best bits of all the artefacts from Mexican ruins. It was an absolutely mind-boggling experience to see so much at once, and a great way to learn about many of the ruins I had or would be visiting in the country over the next six weeks or so. It is a must-see for anyone who visits Mexico City; there´s something that will capture everyone´s imagination, from the huge Aztec calendar to the codexes (picture stories) and massive stone carvings, and the thousands of pottery pieces and accompanying history (of which some was in English).

Frida Kahlo`s Blue House was also a highlight. This is the house where Kahlo lived with her family and later with Diego Rivera. It has been turned into a museum of the artist´s life, and features everything from the bed in which she died to some of her paintings and numerous letters. The Museo Dolores was equally impressive, and featured a room full of Kahlo artwork, although it was really all about Diego Rivera, with 10 rooms devoted to his artwork. My favourite piece was the portrait he drew of his mother when he was only 10 years old, it is quite amazing and an indication of his true talent.

No visit to Mexico is complete without visiting ruins and churches. I´ll write separate entries about both when I get the time, but suffice to say that the catholic cathedral next to the zócolo was magnificent, and a fine example of Spanish arcitecture, of which there is heaps, especially in the inner suburbs.

The Mexican government waives entrance fees to most ruins and galleries etc for its residents on Sundays, and it is great to see them so well patronised. There is also a lot of art that is publicly available; walking down one of the main streets in a major Mexican park I saw an entire exhibition, there is art displayed in the corridors of subways, and the art for sale in the jardin de arte would suit nearly everyone´s tastes (especially if you like watermelons, there seems to be an abundance of the fruit featured in paintings).

The floating markets were a bit disappointing, but that was probably because we didn´t go on market day so there were few people on the water. Shopping around Zona Rosa and Condesa was fantastic, with lots of fashion stores and cafés, just perfect to fill an afternoon.

The Mexican traffic was manageable, especially as we usually avoided it and used the excellent subway. For just 2 pesos (just over 20 Aussie cents), you can ride anywhere on the subway - a very cheap way to get out to the airport and all around town. Avoiding Mexican PDAs was another matter; Mexican people are very affectionate and we rarely boarded a subway without seeing a few people lip-locking. Unfortunately, the subways were also seen as a great way to make money for enterprising people below the poverty line - we were a trapped audience while they played loud music for our ´benefit´ or screamed about their wares as they wandered along the train carriages. It definitely added to the atmosphere.


I love the dragons
Church that was never finished being built
Near-by church
Huge el tule
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