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Who goes to Mexico City?
Mexico City is simply a wonderful place to visit. But few do.
It is one of those destinations that, through media coverage and staring at atlases at school, we think that we know. We have all hear of the country, Mexico, and by extension we assume a familiarity with Mexico City.
And how wrong I was.
Landing in Mexico City is like devouring a mouthful of bursting flavour. It is a city of colour, music, people and life in every form. It is extravagant and modest; loud and full of quiet parks; beautiful and unsightly. It is a city for anyone who loves cities.
I am not sure why we are so driven to comparison, but we are, and for me, Mexico was very European; an amalgam, perhaps, of Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona. The fact that it is one of the world’s largest cities, and houses some 25 million people is really irrelevant to the visitor. The central historical area, Roma Norte and the museum campus are the basic boundaries, with excursions to see some of the farther sites on occasion.
A trip to the Mexican capital was never on my agenda until very recently when my daughter returned to Canada and told me to go. “It is like going to Europe, Dad, but without the time difference”, she said; it was a powerful argument. And so, last week, I went for a four-day jaunt.
And what a fabulous city it is.
The city offers more museums than any other but London, an extraordinary food culture, markets and parks thronged with people, grand boulevards, music and art everywhere, and traffic. In ambience it is a Latin city, a blend of Barcelona, Lisbon and Madrid. Culturally it is the apex of millennia of powerful and innovative societies about whom I was painfully ignorant.
Who knew that between 300 and 900 AD the Teotihuacán people had accurately charted the stars, worked in base 20 mathematics and used the number “zero”? Not I, obviously, but the curators of Mexico’s fabulous Museum of Anthropology certainly did.
Mexico City is Museums
This museum, possibly one of the best major collections I have ever visited, is remarkable in its depth and accessibility. Twenty-two galleries detail the progression of culture in Meso America from 30,000 BC to contemporary times. It is overwhelming, and I managed only seven exhibitions, with the balance saved for my next visit.
Seeing such detailed and perfectly presented work was overwhelming; embarrassing too, to realise how little I knew of such successful and powerful societies, overcome primarily because they had no weapons to fight the Spanish invaders, and they succumbed to European diseases brought by the marauders. However, their architecture, engineering and societal structures were impressive, and far beyond any of contemporaneous Europe.
Cities built two thousand years ago with comprehensive plans, water treatment and defense structures were quite overwhelming. The scientific and engineering capacity of these societies was enormous, and it is a history that is woefully taught outside a very small region.
In almost complete contrast was the house and museum of Leon Trotsky, another terrific stop. Having been in Gori and visited the Stalin Museum a couple of months ago, this seemed a natural call. Mexico is not a place normally associated with the more famous of the Soviet revolutionaries, but here he ended up, until assassinated by one of Stalin’s henchmen in 1940. The house is well worth a visit.
Food in Mexico City
And food; one cannot talk of Mexico City without dipping into its food culture. From the ubiquitous taco stands to elegant, art deco restaurants, there are opportunities for all tastes and budgets. A food tour, of which there are several, is highly recommended. The form of these tours, mine was in the delightful Roma Norte neighbourhood, is to wander through the area stopping at about half a dozen spots to try different options. From Tacos (and the coconut and cauliflower option from La Pitahaya Vegana deserves a special mention) to Tamales, and even a mysterious cactus ceviche and extravagantly colourful sweets, the walk was an eye opener and a fine way to discover the area.
It is also an easy city to get around; Uber is ubiquitous, inexpensive and as fast as the Mexico City traffic will permit. For the more adventurous, the bus system is well marked, and the beneficiary of a comprehensive system of bus lanes that really do speed up progress through the gridlock. As long as you have some data on your phone plan, you can skip around pretty easily.
Add to this the ubiquitous “Hop on Hop off” bus tour, hours spent wandering in the historic district, the weekend market and an appreciation for the deep, rich culture of this marvellous city, I was left with an intense desire to stay or return soon.
Four days was too little. Mexico City is a destination hiding in plain sight, and quite simply, it will become a regular haunt for me in the future.